Stressed or Desserts?

You have surely heard that life has its ups and downs, good times and bad. Like most things in life, stress can be good or bad. What determines that? It is not so much the stressor, but our reaction to it.

Types of stress

Good stress, or eustress, tends to be low or moderate on the stress scale. Positive responses to stressors can be beneficial and motivational.1

Bad stress, or distress, may best be described as extreme pain or sorrow. Negative responses to stressors are rarely helpful and can lead to anxiety or depression over time.1

What are the stages?

Hans Selye developed the general adaptation syndrome to describe the stages a person goes through when stressed. In the first stage, alarm, we become aware of the stressor and react with "fight or flight."2

An immediate physical threat might call for such a response but more often the perceived stressor hits us like lightning and hangs around like a dark cloud. Long story, short, the alarm stage releases a heavy hit of cortisol (known as the stress hormone) as we become hyper alert.2

The second stage, resistance, is a transitional period when the body stays on alert. If the stress is not relieved, cortisol levels remain higher than necessary. Resistance can only last so long without resolution. This can lead to irritability as the body moves into exhaustion, the third stage.2

Normal cortisol levels are good while excessive levels can wreak havoc in the body. The longer these levels stay high, the more constant stress is felt, and health problems like anxiety, depression, headaches or heart disease may occur.2

How to manage it

Persons with chronic diseases like Parkinson’s certainly know stress on a personal level. How do they respond to it? In my experience, factors affecting a response to a stressor can include attitude, willingness, timing of the stressor, environment, and whether one feels supported.

Consistent aerobic exercise, boxing, and high intensity interval training (HIIT) causes the body to release endorphins. These "feel good" chemicals, help us feel fewer negative effects of stress. Specific activities that can reduce the effects of the alarm stage include yoga, Tai Chi, or walking.

Keeping a journal

Stressed? Can’t let it go? In addition to exercise, many persons find it helpful to manage stress by keeping a journal or sketch journal. Brian Luke Seaward offers insight into journaling as a very effective coping tool in his books, speaking engagements and workshops.3

He also demonstrates how humor can help in Stressed is Desserts Spelled Backwards: Rising Above Life's Challenges with Humor, Hope and Courage.4

Feel depressed where you are? Lighten and brighten your favorite space with brighter lightbulbs, fresh paint or a colorful throw or pillow. Go somewhere, and even better, invite a friend to go with you. Volunteer if you can. Journaling can also help persons dealing with depression.

Need support? Call a friend! Let others know that you are struggling. Do not hesitate to seek professional help if needed.

Practicing gratitude

Gratitude is a great attitude. While this is not an in-depth look at stress and its management, it is important to also mention attitude, particularly an attitude of gratitude.

It is hard to be thankful without feeling positive. A purposeful, positive attitude can lead persons to look at how they are managing stress in order to do so effectively.

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