If I asked most people the last time they didn’t feel stressed, they would stare blankly at me. Or possibly laugh. We all know what stress is and what causes it: we hit the snooze button and end up running 20 minutes late, the kids arguing like gremlins in the back seat, or the boss who hates every single thing every person does.
Stress has become a way of life for most people. Without getting too technical, stress is any change from “balance”. When things are balanced, we experience a feeling of calm–unbalanced times create chaos.
But is it okay to not always feel calm and balanced? Well, yes and no.
Everyone needs some amount of stress to live life. Think back to school. If you had a test that you didn’t care about, you probably didn’t study for it and didn’t do that well. On the other hand, if you had to pass the test, you were probably very stressed (which, we hope, caused you to study and do well).
There is a middle ground for just the right amount of stress we need to do well. (This is called the Yerkes-Dodson Law and if you want to know more, go here.) So does this mean that living a stressful lifestyle is a good thing? What happens when we have too much (or even too little) stress for too long?
The right amount of stress in a moment is helpful – even necessary sometimes. If you’re driving to work and someone cuts you off–you need the right amount of stress to avoid an accident. But you don’t need that same amount of stress when the microwave beeps to tell you your food is done. The first is the right amount of appropriate stress–the latter is an overreaction.
However, small stresses add up. That awful week you had? The one where nothing major went wrong, but it felt like every small annoyance and issue just built up? That is an example of how ongoing stress – even minor stress – can end up having a major impact on us. Our emotions, mood, mental health, and physical bodies are impacted by ongoing stress–whether we “feel” stressed or not. (There are actually a lot of studies that show this–start with this one.)
“So”, you may be thinking, “if no stress is bad and too much stress is bad–what am I supposed to do?” The answer lies in the definition we discussed earlier. If we balance our stress by allowing the stress when needed or unavoidable but then taking time for ourselves with activities we enjoy, we can manage more stress without the long-term consequences.
For more information on managing stress, or to schedule an appointment, please do not hesitate to contact me.
MA, ICAADC, CCPG, DOT-SAT, LPC
TBHI Certified Telebehavioral Health Practitioner