It’s the last month of the year–a busy, busy time. Not only do we continue our usual work schedule, but we also prep the house for the holidays (whichever one you celebrate), we fix big meals, we spend time with family, and we reflect back on the past year. I don’t know about you but I enjoy all those things. Yet, at the same time, I can get overwhelmed. So much stress! Does the end of the year stress you out?
What is Stress?
Stress is your body’s way of handling any kind of demand or threat. When you face a threat your body is designed to release hormones that kick your body into high gear. These hormones are called stress hormones. They cause your heart to beat faster, your muscles to tighten, you breathe quick, short breaths, and your senses become sharper. This is the fight or flight response you probably learned a bit about in school.
Back when we were cave dwellers this fight or flight response to stress was life-saving. Today, stress can keep you on your game so you perform your best, it can warn you of and get out of potentially threatening situations. But, this same fight or flight response releases all those stress hormones when you are stressed out about an argument with your spouse, gift buying for the holidays, or work, or family situations. In other words, for those stressful times that are not life-threatening. And boy do we have non-life-threatening stress. (Or is that just me?)
What Causes Stress?
Anything can cause stress. Things that stress me out may not cause you any stress at all. Stress can be very short-term or very long term. Situations that can cause stress include:
• Being bullied
• Working too hard
• Losing a job
• Marriage or relationship problems
• Recent breakup or divorce
• Death in the family (or close friend)
• Difficulty in school
• Family problems
• Busy schedule
• Recent move or change of jobs
• Financial problems
• Chronic illness—yourself or a loved one
• Retirement (yes, you read that right)
• Rigid thinking
• Negative thinking
Symptoms of Chronic Stress
Long-term stress can lead to your body being ultra-sensitive to stressful situations. Ultra-sensitive, your body will release stress hormones even when the situation isn’t that stressful. Over time these high levels of stress hormones can lead to changes in your behavior and in your physical and emotional health.
Physical symptoms of chronic stress include:
• Muscle pain or tension
• Nausea, dizziness
• Diarrhea or constipation
• Change in sex drive
• High blood pressure
• Chest pain, rapid heart rate
• Frequent colds or flu
Emotional symptoms include:
• Feeling you can’t get things done
• Anxiety, racing thoughts
• Lack of motivation
• Sadness or depression
Behavioral symptoms include:
• Nervous habits—chewing fingernails, pacing, etc.
• Sleeping too much or too little
• Eating too much or too little
• Smoking, using alcohol or drugs ‘to relax’
• Withdrawing from others
Asking for Help Isn’t a Failing
If you are experiencing behavioral, physical or emotional symptoms of stress there are things you can do to lessen your stress levels. You can do some things for yourself (we’ll discuss those next week). You may want to talk to a trusted counselor such as your religious leader or a therapist. If it’s overwhelming you ask your physician if medications might help you manage.
If you are thinking of giving up, of hurting yourself or others, don’t wait.
Get help now.
Go to the emergency room, call 911, call a local suicide prevention hotline, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. You don’t need to give your name.
Does the end of the year stress you out? I hope your stress is temporary. If it’s chronic, I pray that you find relief soon. What time of year are you most stressed? Next week we’ll talk about things that influence how stress affects you and ways to improve your ability to handle stress.