Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Cycles of Stress

By Melissa Banuchi, Executive Coach

You’ve been here, right? We all have. And either you’re laughing as you read this, because you’re the woman on our left (now, now, put your arms down and stop howling, show-off!!!), or you’re shaking your head back and forth, wincing, (shuddering?) because you’re the woman on our right. Two women, perhaps the best of friends, who do everything together and have for years, yet, look at the different experiences they are having while doing the same exact thing. Yep, stress can be caused by everyday experiences like this ride, but to better understand and use/manage it, we need to look at and learn about positive and negative stress cycles.

Positive and Negative Stress? Oh MY!!!!
As I mentioned on Monday (Stress 101), and you can clearly see above, people’s opinions differ on whether a particular stress is positive (eustress) or negative (distress). Be careful of your assumptions around how you and others “should” interpret any experience or event (stress-wise). Competing for the championship, graduating from college, buying a house, getting married, starting a new job, managing a heavy workload, getting a promotion (you get the picture), each is positive or negative depending on the person’s mindset.

The Cycles of Stress
Another “Duh!” moment for everyone: Stress is a cycle. Okay, stay with me here. Whether it’s positive or negative, stress affects us physically, mentally, and emotionally. Our responses to the stress we’re experiencing (our thoughts, emotions, mood, physical symptoms, behavior, words, actions, and so on), demonstrate whether we are in distress and creating more negative stress for ourselves (and possibly others), or in eustress, feeling exhilarated, and enjoying a positive experience (like the woman on our left, above). In eustress, we feel excited, creative, and use the stress in a positive way; as a motivator to inspire learning, take positive actions, give a stellar performance, win, and bring about growth, change, and energetic satisfaction. This is important because the way we interpret the stress we’re experiencing determines whether our stress cycle (and the affect the stress will have on us and what we perpetuate) will be positive or negative.

The Negative Stress Cycle
Negative Stress is typically the stress that we think of first, experience more often, and the one that the “Stress in America” annual APA report says is causing these symptoms in Americans:
  • Irritability or anger (42%)
  • Fatigue (37%)
  • Lack of interest, motivation or energy (35%)
  • Headaches (32%)
  • Upset stomachs (24%)
A smaller percentage report having a change in appetite (17%) and sex drive (11%). The report also pointed out the following unhealthy behaviors due to stress:
  • 29% skipped a meal
  • 39% reported overeating or eating unhealthy foods
  • 44% reported lying awake at night
It is important for people to understand that the cycle goes both ways: that our negative thoughts and physical symptoms are not only brought on by stress, but they bring on stress as well. Getting stuck in this cycle can do us a lot of harm.

Serious Negative Stress = Serious Health Issues

Long term exposure to negative stress is disruptive to nearly every system in our bodies, and can cause serious physical, mental and emotional health problems.
  • Pain
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Heart Disease
  • Mood Disorders
  • Digestive Problems
  • Substance Related Disorders
  • Fertility Problems
  • Autoimmune Diseases
  • Skin Conditions
  • Accelerated Aging

The Positive Stress Cycle
Need your suitcase, car, or your house packed well? I’m your girl. Everything you need for your ten day trip in a carry-on? No problem; and NO wrinkled clothes when you land in Amsterdam! Your driveway-full of camping ‘stuff’? It’ll be my PLEASURE to figure out how to best use the space in your car, make everything fit, leave you plenty of room to sit comfortably, and give you easy access to the things you’ll need while on the road! Planning, packing, and organizing THRILL me! Sound nuts? That’s okay; it’s MY positive stress.

Positive stress can be difficult for people to get their heads around. Most of what has been written, discussed and focused on by media and healthcare has very little to do with positive stress. But let’s try. Even thought the APA does not include positive stress in its annual report, here’s a partial list of what positive stress is causing in Americans:
  • Excitement
  • Joy
  • Boost of energy, creativity, focus, clarity, drive, confidence, openness to explore and learn
  • Higher levels of adrenaline & serotonin released
  • ‘Butterflies’ in our tummies
  • Increased determination to finish, win, achieve, perform well
Worth listing are some of the behaviors associated with positive stress:
  • Taking a chance (being adventurous – enthusiastically stepping outside your comfort zone)
  • Forming positive habits
  • Seeing things through
  • Exuberantly facing challenges
  • Confidently making positive changes
As is the case for negative stress cycles, positive stress cycles go both ways. Our positive behavioral response and relaxation self talk are not only brought on by positive stress, but they bring on positive stress as well.

Positive Stress = Positive Health Benefits

Positive Stress affects nearly every system in our bodies, and can cause physical, mental and emotional health benefits that seemingly we’d all welcome.
Physical, Mental & Emotional
  • Improved Performance
  • Increased Confidence
  • Increased Happiness
  • Improved Health
  • Increased Stamina
  • Increased Focus
  • Increased Energy
  • Increased Motivation
  • Increased Relaxation
  • Increased Openness
Next Up:
There are numerous ways to manage the negative stress in our lives. It’s important that people learn about and incorporate the ones that work for them for all the reasons listed above, and more. Next, we’ll explore some of these strategies and their benefits. Hopefully you’ll find one or more that are right for you!

About the Author:
Whether it's through coaching, consulting or a combination of the two, Melissa enjoys partnering with individuals, teams and organizations to bring about positive change. Melissa currently serves on the Fresh Start Auxiliary Board. She has background in a number of different including operations, sales and marketing; and after extensive training, she earned an ATC as an executive coach.

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