Worry and Our Stress Response

Women and men both worry, but surprise we do it differently!

Research shows that women are 2 times more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorder. Women and men tend to deal with stress differently women tend to talk abouttheir stress men tend to internalize stress.

Is there ever a time in our lives when we have absolutely ZERO to stress about? I mean even if there was we FIND things to stress about for other people in our lives.

Let’s talk about what is really happening when we get stressed out. There are several phases to the “human stress cycle”:

#1 is the Alarm Phase - racing heart, increased breathing, maybe sweating.This phase is what happens when you are running from a bear or something less life-threatening but more embarrassing is running into your ex-fiancé when you are in the ugliest set of sweats hair in a messy bun no makeup and are sucking down a huge piece of cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory because you just got passed over for that promotion you’ve been working on for a year.

#2 phase is called adaptation/resistance – this is a healthy phase – we adapt to to the stressor and our body’s response (breathing pulse etc) returns to baseline. From the example about you escape from the bear– breathe relax ok or you finish your cheesecake remember what a jerk your ex leave 1Ž2 of cheesecake go to the gym to work of that billion calories you just ate girl!

What about when our body never gets to adapt or return to baseline because there is always something to worry about. Even if one worry goes away we can pick up a new one, often pretty quickly. Its toxic your mind just jumps from one bad thing to the next. Then we enter the third and final stage of the stress cycle #3 “exhaustion phase” – the exhaustion phase happens when we cannot escape from the alarm phase or we cycle between alarm resistant/adaptation too frequently.

Here is an example of how we might get into this phase. When your ex walks away you relive the moment over and over – why didn’t you shower today?  no makeup – what were you thinking?  Life stinks!  Then your thoughts start jumping why didn’t you get that promotion?  You are the better choice!  You are going to quit your job -- that’ll show ‘em!... and it gets worse. You start to worry about whether this means you’ll get fired soon or whether people have been talking about you to your boss. What are they saying? Until weeks later you’ve gained 15 lbs are unhappy at work walk around in a fog and your boss has a talk with you that if you cant get your act together they will have to let you go. You then say to yourself “I knew they wanted to fire me all along!” So your worry and anxiety and turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your tired brain revs up and goes into overdrive - What if I do get let go? How
will I pay my bills? Where will I live? How do I turn this around in time?  I’ll have to move back home – a failure – my snooty doctor brother will have a field day with this – I’ll never live it down.

Chronic stress can lead lower your immune system (causing you to become more sensitive to infections and illness) and can lead to much worse.  Have you ever heard the term “stress will kill ya”….well it’s true.

This chronic stress without a break wreaks havoc on our health both mentally and physically. There are too many symptoms of chronic stress to list here so I’ll just name a few I hear over and over from patients- can’t sleep eat too much crave junk food drink alcohol weight gain moody can’t concentrate can’t sleep well blaming others loss of self-confidence, fatigue, nausea and the list goes on and on.

Chronic stress causes us to ignore other the parts of our lives that we do have control over. We get into a vicious cycle where we
can’t  enjoy our friends family job children  or hobbies much less relax. Your body is like one of those wind up toys – and is always wound up.

When this happens you need to break the cycle and give your mind and body time to regenerate for the next “real stressor” like the bear or that huge account deadline.

Handling Stress 101 - First you have to learn how to identify those stressors that you have some control over and those that you don’t. 

Think about it. You can run from the bear. You can regroup at work and try harder or if you really feel taken advantage at your
current job  start looking for a new job. That is control! Compare these to how you relived the ex-fiancé meeting proceeded to give up at work and gained 15 lbs. You can’t turn back the clock an have a“redo” on the meeting your ex is jerk noone can do your job for you and nobody force-fed that gallon of Ben and Jerry’s to you..

Stress 101 – Home Exercise -  
Write down ALL of the stressors in your life and whether you are in control of  them or not. If you are in control of the stress what will you do about it. Proceed to mark off all the ones with “not in control”.   If you can’t break the stress cycle and you just cannot stop worrying about those things you have no control over – talk to your health provider or a psychologist or counselor to work through this. We all have stress but we need to focus on the things we can do something about and let the rest go.

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