Monday, February 13, 2012

Stress 101

By Melissa Banuchi

“Stress happens when the mind resists what is.”
– Dan Millman, Way of the Peaceful Warrior

Quick! When you read the quote above, did you say, “Wow!”, or did you say, “Duh!”? Both? I immediately said “Wow!” Then after thinking about it for a minute or two, I stopped in my tracks and said, “Duh!” The statement is so profound…..yet so simple. Aaaaaahhhhhhh…….stress.

The Latest Research
On January 11, 2012 the American Psychological Association (APA) released their annual “Stress In America” report ( that suggests our country “is on the verge of a stress-induced public health crisis”. Isn’t that GREAT news? Findings include:
  • More adults report that their stress is increasing than decreasing. 39% said their stress had increased over the past year and even more said that their stress had increased over the past five years (44%).
  • More than 22% of Americans have "extreme stress."
  • More than half (56%) of adults say they are doing an excellent or very good job of knowing when they are feeling stressed, but only about half as many (26%) report doing an excellent or very good job at preventing themselves from becoming stressed, and only 29% say they are doing an excellent or very good job at managing or reducing it.
  • The majority of adults (83%) report that they think stress can have a strong or very strong impact on a person’s health, yet a sizeable minority still thinks that stress has only a slight or no impact on their own physical health (31%) and mental health (36%). Huh?

What exactly is stress? Well, let’s see. Unfortunately, because it is so subjective, there is no universally accepted definition of the stress we experience. Dictionary definitions include:
  • Mental, emotional, or physical strain or tension
  • A condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize

“Good” Stress? Come ON!
Although everyone defines, experiences and internalizes stress differently, people agree that both good and bad stress exist. “GOOD” stress? Yep. Think about it. Good stress is a motivator; it’s the deadline or signal that makes you take action, the event that makes you work harder than ever to ensure you deliver a stellar performance, the harsh experience that you learn from, vow never to repeat, and forces you to change. People feel excited, empowered, motivated by good stress.

On the other hand (the one we most commonly think of), “bad” stress” causes fear, anxiety, and frustration. Instead of motivating people, this kind of stress depresses, paralyzes, and/or incites all sorts of atypical behaviors. According to the APA report, the most significant sources of stress currently include:
  • Financial (75%),
  • Job (70%),
  • The economy (67%),
  • Relationships (58%),
  • Family responsibilities (57%),
  • Family health problems (53%),
  • Personal health concerns (53%),
  • Job stability (49%),
  • Housing costs (49%),
  • Personal safety (32%)
And just when you thought things couldn’t get more complicated, people’s opinions differ on whether a particular stress is good or bad. That’s right. A stress that’s considered ‘bad’ by one person (Public speaking anyone? Rollercoaster ride? Job change? ), might just excite and/or motivate another. Imagine that!

How Stressed Are You?
Would you like to calculate your current level of stress on the Holmes and Rahe stress scale? Developed in 1967 by psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, the scale is a list of 43 stressful life events that can contribute to illness. To complete it for free (without identifying yourself or signing up for anything), click here. A score of 300 and above means you are at risk for illness. A score between 150 and 299 means your risk of illness is moderate (reduced by 30% from the above risk). A score 150 or less means you only have a slight risk of illness.

Next Up:
So far we’ve reviewed a bit of research, realized that stress cannot be defined, referred you to a nifty and free stress scale, and recognized that there’s “Good” and “Bad” when it comes to stress. Next week we’re going to dig deeper into the causes and effects of stress. Prepare yourself…it’s an “Ugly” cycle.

Don't forget to check back this week for 2 other installments in our Stress Management Series. It could change your life!

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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