I would define stress as an emotional, physical, mental state of strain and tension, resulting from demanding situations or circumstances — sometimes adverse circumstances.
A little stress is that extra oomph to get you off the sofa, to go run that mile that you’re supposed to go do, get that deadline done, get your kid’s projects done, and help them with their homework. It’s that extra energy, or that extra shot of caffeine.
There’s a little bit of stress every day. Just to get you to get up in the morning. We all have alarm clocks. That’s a little stress there because there’s a time that you have to get up. Everybody has a little bit of stress just to get their usual activities done.
Yes. People don’t want to say “Hey, I succumb to the pressure. I can't work under pressure.” They know their colleagues have pressure too.
A lot of us interview for new jobs and are asked “How do you work under pressure? What do you do when a situation is stressful like this? How do you handle it?” You want to be the one that says, I can handle it.
We want to do a lot. We see other people do it. We want our kids to succeed. We want to succeed. We’re a lot more apt to admit that we have those stressors in our life, or that pressure.
It could be personal illness. It could be illness in a loved one. It could be your job, your deadlines, just everyday stuff.
It could be major life events like divorce, getting a new job, losing your job, having to move because of a job, or just moving for a good thing. Sometimes it could be good stressors, but it’s still stressful.
The normal stressors are things like just being able to get up in the morning, making sure your kids are fed before they’re off to school, that you get to work. Once it gets where there is one deadline, after another deadline, and you just can’t keep up — you miss an appointment or miss your kid’s soccer game — then it gets to be a problem. [The stress] takes a physical and emotional toll out of you, and you become super fatigued.
It can increase your blood pressure, which puts you at risk for cardiac disease. You might eat too much, which puts you at risk for diabetes. It can cause depression, maybe even suicidal thoughts. Physically, you might break out with acne. You might lose your hair. Then you start having chest pain, palpitations. [It can result in] stress ulcers. You might get diarrhea because your bowels are out of whack. Your back hurts. There is a lot of muscle tension.
It can also cause sleeplessness because you’re thinking about all your deadlines. Your mind keeps racing all night. There’s no way you can get rest when your brain is not resting. You wake up in the morning when your alarm goes off, and realize: “Gosh, I haven't even slept at all, or maybe an hour.”
It can be a problem if it’s been going on for at least a couple months or maybe even a little bit longer. If your personality changes and you’re not really nice to be around, that’s a sign. You isolate yourself from other people. You’re not laughing. You don’t want to talk to anybody because you’re just so irritable. You might see a person start smoking, or finding a different way to relieve that stress in a bad way.
You become super irritable. You’re short-tempered. Maybe your family did something that’s so benign and small, but your reaction to it was out of proportion to the situation. You’re now feeling a lot of physical toll from that stress, especially that chest pain, or that depression that makes you think about your life differently. Those would be warning signs.
You would not necessarily need to go see a psychologist right away. If you already are followed by one, then that would be great. But I think your first point is always your PCP or primary care physician.
When in doubt, go to your primary care physician, and ask: “Listen, this is what I’ve seen. This has been happening for three months. This has caused me all these physical or emotional symptoms. What should I do? How can you help me?”
It’s important to continue to exercise regularly. If you like yoga, maybe tai chi, maybe meditation, all that would be good.
Find a friend — that friend you haven’t had coffee with for a while — and go out on a coffee date. Do stuff with your family. Do things to distract you from that stress. Read a book. My kids and I love music. We’ll turn on some music when there are just too many things going on. A lot of people here in San Diego have long commutes. They can turn on a music app and make that half-hour or 45-minute commute relaxation time. Deep breathing helps. Always keep a sense of humor. Laughter is always the best medicine.
It’s always ideal to set aside probably 20 to 30 minutes for hobbies to help you deal with stress in your life. Do it even if you have only 10 minutes. It’s amazing what 10 minutes would do. You can always make time. You make time to watch the football game, even if it’s the fourth quarter. You make time to see the last parts of your kid's soccer game. There’s always time.