Monday, March 4, 2019

Understanding Stress and How to Cope

Stress is a dirty word for many people, and with good reason. We often don't feel its full effects until it's wreaked havoc on our emotions, thoughts, and physical well-being.
But did you know that stress isn't always a bad thing? Or that there multiple types of negative stress? Understanding the various forms of stress helps you recognize when you can apply certain coping techniques to feel better.
Eustress vs. Distress: What's the Difference?
Surprise! There's actually a form of positive stress called eustress. In the past 50 years, mental health professionals identified that stress "shouldn't always be linked to negative scenarios," according to Positive Psychology.
Eustress, as identified by endocrinologist and author Hans Selye, is the difference between the stress stimulus and your response. Good stress, or eustress, includes excitement, focus, and improved performance. It's a short-term burst that motivates and energizes, and we don't feel it taxes our coping skills. You may notice eustress when starting a project that intrigues you, taking a new class, or following through on an idea. This boost helps you progress well and feel good about what you accomplish.


Distress, on the other hand, is the negative condition most of us try to avoid. It's often associated with anxiety, depression, and other unpleasant emotions. It can last for a little while or an extended period of time—which often compounds its unfortunate effects.


With distress, no matter how you try to apply the usual coping mechanisms, nothing seems to make it go away. It starts to affect your performance and concentration in many areas of life, and eventually causes a host of physical and mental complications.

The Multiple Facets of Distress
Before you can work out different ways of managing stress, you first need to understand the different types. The American Psychological Association identifies these three categories:
  • Acute
  • Episodic acute
  • Chronic
Acute stress is what many people experience. Dealing with addiction cravings. A pressing deadline. A child's discipline problems. These and hundreds of other personal and universal issues momentarily crop up in our daily lives, and we have to find a way to acknowledge what's happening in the short term and how to deal with it effectively.

This form of stress contributes to numerous health challenges, including:
  • Stomach, digestive, and bowel issues
  • Muscular restrictions, including backaches, jaw pain, and tension headaches
  • Over-arousal, resulting in dizziness, chest pain, heart palpitations, and high blood pressure
  • Emotional issues such as anxiety, depression, and irritability
Episodic acute stress is a little more problematic. If your everyday life is perpetually disorganized, rushed, chaotic, and pressured, it's possible you're suffering from this stress manifestation. It's harder to break patterns of behavior that contribute to episodic acute stress.

Learn How to Take Care of Yourself
For people dealing with substance abuse disorder, they may require more comprehensive methods of coping skills to not only address but also remedy episodic stress.
Physical and emotional results of acute stress are magnified in this category, including:
  • Endless worry and projections of "awfulness" or fears
  • Migraines
  • Heart disease, heart muscle damage, and hypertension
  • Combative behavior and anger management issues
  • Ongoing physical ailments, such as muscle tension, joint pain, and a weakened immune system
  • Inability to relax and/or sleep
Chronic stress can be caused by deep-rooted trauma, constant and unreasonable demands, or troubling environmental factors such as war, conflict, or poverty. It's also the stress of despair, when someone simply doesn't have any hope that a miserable situation will ever get better. Sometimes people also feel this way due to an abusive situation, grief, illness, or the complications of addiction.
The medical consequences of chronic stress are dire. They include:
  • Violence
  • Severe depression
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Cancer
Often, symptoms of chronic stress are difficult to treat, because of the impact is compounded by many bouts with acute stress.
There are numerous ways to minimize the impact stress has on you, but they require concerted effort and often professional help.
1. Recognize when old habits aren't serving you. Seek the assistance of a cognitive behavioral therapist to help you identify key issues that contribute to distress and how to handle them.

2. Exercise and eat healthfully. Regular movement is a reliable stress reliever. A consistent yoga practice, for example, is proven to reduce the hyperactivity of the sympathetic nervous system, or the "fight or flight" response that often accompanies stress. A whole foods diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants counteracts the negative physical effects of the condition.

3. Adopt breathing techniques. When you take deep, deliberate breaths, you stimulate the vagus nerve, which is the command center for your parasympathetic nervous system, or the "rest and digest" response.

4. Try meditation or mindfulness techniques. The reset these applications provide is integral to understanding what level of stress you're experiencing, and how you can pass through it with awareness.

5. Learn the difference between recharging and isolation. When we're stressed, it's easy to hide away and suffer alone. If you're trying to maintain sobriety, separating yourself from your support network and other helpful resources may weaken your resolve. To remember the importance of relying on a community that understands you and moments of joy that sustain you, leave contact numbers and affirmations in plain sight for easy access.


Learning to manage variables of stress takes time. Trust that you'll condition your mind and body to be more responsive with each method.

The Cottonwood Whole Person Experience
The philosophy of care at Cottonwood Tucson presumes that emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual factors of life are interconnected. Often, the root of stress is due to an imbalance of these aspects. Our caring staff wants to provide people with complete wellness, whether they're struggling with:
  • Substance abuse
  • Co-occurring disorders such as depression or PTSD
  • Mood disorders like complicated grief or bipolar disorder
  • Process disorders such as food addiction, binge eating, or sex addiction
For more information about our whole body holistic care approach, click here.

By Tracey L. Kelley

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