Dealing with stress


Words by: Jenna Oertel, Professional Registered Counsellor | Photos: Shutterstock

Jenna Oertel

What exactly is stress? Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain, creating an uncomfortable feeling that often arises as a result of when you’re worried, anxious, nervous, scared, angry, frustrated or overwhelmed. The tension resulting from these experiences and feelings causes adverse effects on both your emotional state and physical body. Stress is also not isolated to any specific race, experience, gender or profession – it is something that will affect us all, but to what extent is what can make it healthy or unhealthy.

Get quality sleep, as poor sleep will result in you becoming more reactive to stress.

Make sure you exercise. It’s often the last thing you feel like, but this is the one thing that can help use up those excess stress hormones.

Learn to set boundaries and realize when enough is enough.

Sure, a little stress is healthy and often necessary to motivate us into doing something and achieving more. It also helps us to deal with tough situations, keeps us alert, prevents us from becoming complacent, prepares us better and makes us proactive rather than reactive. So we don’t want to eliminate all stress because without it, in the healthy sense, we won’t break records, achieve more and make life more interesting. However, there is a point where stress can become unhealthy and this is normally when we feel unable to manage it.

Cause and effect

There is a common misconception about stress and the causes, but what stresses one person may not necessarily stress another person. So it may not be specific things that stress everyone out, but rather our interpretation or perception of that experience. For example, let’s take two athletes who have worked for months towards getting chosen for some team. For one athlete it may be the end of the world and a huge concern not to get chosen, but for another athlete this may be perceived as not being that bad; maybe something better may come of this or it was just not meant to be. In both instances, the experience is the same, but the interpretation is very different and accordingly affects their stress levels and attitude.

It’s important to remember here that it’s not what happens to us that hurts or stresses us, but how we choose to view and perceive it that does.

Latest research points to the fact that our perception of stress is what impacts our health, emotionally and physically, and not the actual stress itself. Therefore, we need to learn to be more optimistic about our experiences and in doing so, this will affect us accordingly.

Causes of stress

Stress comes from many different places.
• From your parents, friends, mentor or coach. “Don’t disappoint me, try harder, practice more, finish this, do better, practice, I told you.”
• From your friends. “How’d you do on the test or event, try this, you could do better, don’t do that.”
• Even from yourself. “I need to lose weight, build my muscles, make the team, get a better time.”

And from other things such as:
• Feeling pressure to achieve more.
• Thinking about the future.
• Not having enough money.
• Not being good enough.
• Worrying about the next sporting event.
• Feeling guilty.
• Placing your identity and sense of worth on the achievement.

How our body handles stress

There are hormones and our nervous system that affects our physical response to stress. Hormones are chemicals made by one part of the body, which travel through your blood to send messages to the rest of the body. Your nervous system is made up of the brain, spinal cord and all the nerves. The nerves send messages between your brain and the rest of your body. The body is an amazingly fine-tuned machine that changes and does what it needs to respond to any changes, like stress.

The body has two nervous systems; one being voluntary and the other involuntary. The voluntary system does what you choose to do, such as walk, talk and move. The involuntary system keeps the body running without you even having to think about it, such as breathing and digesting. Within the involuntary nervous system, the body actually has two different nerve pathways. One works while we’re relaxed and the other works when there’s an emergency.

In times before us, our ancestors relied on the involuntary nervous system to react to the stressor and survive. Today’s modern world, however, is made up of different stressors and we are no longer necessarily hunting for our food and being faced with dangerous wildlife on our way to the malls. Our biggest worries aren't usually about life or death, so we don’t have to flee from our problems. The problem today, however, is that when those same stress hormones are released, they remain in our bodies, unused and confused, unlike our ancestors who ran off their excess hormones. The result is we feel awful and are not always able to burn or work them off through exercise.

It would be better if we had different hormones for different stresses, but we only have those hormones that prepare us for flee or fight. So it’s really important that we use our brain to decide what a real emergency is. We can do this by making use of coping skills and rational/objective thinking, as well as exercise to use up those hormones that have nowhere to go.

In summary, we cannot tell the difference between stressors that are a real threat and emergency from those that are not. Therefore, our emotions make our bodies react as if every stressor were an emergency because the brain controls both emotions and stress hormones. So while your emotions are treating a stressful situation like it is an emergency, the trick is to evaluate what is a real emergency and when it is not. By changing your perception to being rational and objective, as opposed to listening to your emotions, you will be able to gain more perspective and take control of your stress, rather than your stress controlling you.

One of the symptoms of being over-stressed is exhaustion.

Over-stressed symptoms

Stress has become too much if you exhibit these symptoms:
• Impatience
• Lack of enjoyment
• Sleep problems
• Exhaustion
• Anxiety (anxiety/panic attacks)

Stress and its resultant symptoms if ignored can get more serious and more difficult to deal with. Having effective managing and coping skills here is essential. Everyone’s warning signs of stress can be different, so it’s important to get in touch with yourself and how you manage and deal with stress. Being more aware of what stresses you and how you deal or cope with stress allows you to be more perceptive in catching it before gets too bad and allows you to make use of alternative measures to cope.

Coping with stress

If you are stressed, focus on the following:
• Stop ruminating and obsessing about what you could’ve done or should’ve done. This type of negative and unproductive thinking will just make you more irrational and stressed.
• Get quality sleep, as poor sleep will result in you becoming more reactive to stress, which will worsen cognitive ability and functioning and cause you to make more mistakes. This in turn leads to more stress and so it continues.
• Get support from objective and healthy friends/people. Toxic relationships will do nothing for you, other than stress you out even more.
• Stop taking on more things that just make you feel even more overwhelmed.
• Learn to delegate and stop needing to have control over anything and everything.
• Make sure you exercise. It’s often the last thing you feel like, but this is the one thing that can help use up those excess stress hormones just lying around and making you feel even worse.
• Learn to set boundaries and realize when enough is enough.

Remember, stress is an important means for survival and can keep you alert and focused when needed. But when you are not dealing with a survival issue, the hormones released can interfere with your ability to think clearly and solve a problem.

Despite the actual hormones being released, research proves that changing our perception of the event and viewing it in a more rational and positive way can confuse our body and actually combat the hormones. So a change in perception, exercise and a supportive ear does wonders in getting you back on track and releases you from the negative effects of stress.

Remember, stress can only cause us stress out if we perceive it to be stressful!

More information
To learn more about stress or if you need help with coping with stress, visit or contact Jenna Oertel (B.A. Psych. Hons., HR Management, Professional Registered Counsellor, Neurofeedback Practitioner (ISNR & BCIA) by email on

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Welcome to the 21 November 2014 issue of DO IT NOW Magazine.