Could it be stress?

Could it be stress? I like to have a few trusted advisors in my circle of healers and one of those is my naturopath. I see her a few times per year and deeply value the intuition she adds to any symptoms I am experiencing.

I remember my early sessions with her when she’d ask me whether I was feeling stressed. I’d respond with “No, not really.” But – to be honest – I didn’t really know how to answer. And then she’d run one of her tests which often indicated that, in fact, I was actually quite stressed.

So how could this be? Why did’t I understand my own stress? Come to think of it, what actually is stress?

Part of the reason I found it so difficult to evaluate my own stress is that perceptions of stress vary considerably among individuals. Being the gratefully recovering perfectionist that I am, there’s a good chance that the reason I couldn’t acknowledge my own stress was because it was my nature to do my best to ignore any feelings of stress and hope for the best that they’d go away… (and also hope that no one else would notice). I know I’m not alone…

What is stress?

So – as it turns out – stress is an inescapable aspect of life. It is effectively some type of strain on the body and sources of stress are characterised as either psychosocial or biogenic stressors. And – just for completeness – psychosocial stressors do not directly ‘cause’ the stress response but they become stressors by virtue of our thoughts or feelings about real or imagined threatening events brought about by those stressors.

In short, stress robs our health and accelerates ageing as a result of the hormones released which cause actions that effectively disrupt our bodily functions. For example, your body may increase heart rate, blood pressure, metabolic rate, dilate blood vessels, mobilise fat and increase blood sugar levels.  The critical issue is long-term stress.

Increasingly, research is revealing the role of stress in high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, headaches, back pain, depression, digestive disorders, and a host of disorders linked to the immune system – disturbances ranging from the common cold and herpes to arthritis and cancer.

These stressors – whether biogenic or psychosocial – cause an arousal state and make it difficult for your body to maintain a state where it functions with ease and efficiency. Stress plays a major role in most disease and thus it is so important to learn to listen to your body and follow your intuition as it relates to your health.

Perceived sources of stress

The top psychosocial sources of stress are: death of a spouse; divorce; marital separation; jail term; death of a close family member; personal injury or illness; marriage; fired at work; marital reconciliation and retirement. But other, more common sources include: financial worries; meeting continual deadlines; job changes; loneliness; conflicts with others; performance pressures and fear or anxiety about our future as well as positive events such as getting married; entertaining guests or the arrival of a new born baby.

Biogenic stressors are just as important to consider and include: nicotine; alcohol; caffeine; extreme heat; extreme cold; refined carbohydrates (such as white bread and sugar) and stimulants including theobromine (from the cacao seed and found in cacao products, including chocolate), and theophylline (found in tea leaves).

How is your stress?

This simple exercise will give you a snapshot of your own stress and is based on perceived sources of stress people are likely to experience on a daily basis. Note that I have not included every single possible source of stress in this questionnaire so you would do well to reflect upon your life more broadly and acknowledge truthfully whether you are coping with pressure in your life. Take the questionnaire below or download it here.

Are you stressed?

Directions: Using the 10-point scale below, rate the following items in terms of the degree of pressure they caused you during the last 8 weeks.

Causes slight pressure Causes moderate pressure Causes extreme pressure
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Score items that are not applicable, or that have no present pressure on you as “0”.

  Perceived source of stress Degree of pressure
1. Handling finances
2. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle
3. My relationship with my family or friends
4. Personal health concerns
5. Working long or unsociable hours
6. Lack of job satisfaction
7. Anticipation of feared event
8. Difficulty balancing work and family life
9. Children
10. Health issues affecting my family or friends

 How to score

To calculate your stress score add all the numbers in the column. My stress score is: ________

What the score means:

Slight stress Moderate stress Extreme stress
1 – 30 31 – 70 71 – 100

If your stress is either moderate or extreme then this serves as a warning that you need to attend to the stress in your life.

My top 4 strategies for relieving stress

These days I am abundantly more aware of how I feel when I am stressed. And I’m getting better at identifying my patterns of coping with stressors. Most importantly, I have a little “toolbox” of strategies to help me move through the experience so that I can get back to enjoying life! These are my top 4 strategies for relieving stress:

1. Energy healing

Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it.” Darryl Anka

Another of my trusted healers is my my energy healer who shares her considerable talents in reiki, body talk and metaphysical counseling. She is my “secret weapon” for personal expansion!

2. Journaling

Keep a note-book. If only for the sake of getting out of your own head.

3. Meditation and breathing

Buddha was asked, “What have you gained from meditation?” He replied, “Nothing! However, let me tell you what I have lost: anger, anxiety, depression, insecurity, fear of old age and death.”

4. Exercise

The best six doctors and no one can deny it are sunshine, water, rest, air, diet, exercise.” Wayne Fields

Are you like me… have you ever tried to ignore feelings of stress, hoping that time would make them go away? How do you know when you are feeling stress? And what is your best tip for managing your stress?

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