Anyone who claims they haven’t experienced stress in their life is either completely kidding themselves or living a very sheltered lifestyle. Stress doesn’t even wait to strike until we’re adults; it can affect kids from an early age if parents aren’t careful. I certainly remember experiencing stress in middle and high school. Of course the triggers of stress for me as a teenager were very different from those I would start facing once I became an adult, but they nevertheless impacted me physically and mentally. You can probably relate!
Stress is like a virus
When I was in my 20s I had a lightbulb moment when I realized stress is very much like a virus:
- It’s super contagious between people who in close proximity with one another.
- It can make us very sick if we don’t prioritize taking care of ourselves.
- It compromises our immune system.
- It can cause other serious health conditions if left untreated.
I’ve witnessed and experienced first hand how stress can strain and ruin relationships, trigger health problems, and cause serious emotional changes such as depression and rage. Scientists at the UNC School of Medicine have even proven that stress can cause a cellular mechanism in the body that reactivates the herpes simplex virus, which 90% of Americans have. Remember this correlation the next time you get a cold sore!
Additionally, scientific research has shown that chronic stress results in immune suppression, which increases the body’s susceptibility to the common cold and infections (including triggering AIDS in patients who are HIV positive). Chronic stress can also lead to higher blood pressure, shingles, ulcers, tuberculosis and more. I certainly believe it. I know two people who have had outbreaks of shingles due to high levels of stress. Ouch.
Symptoms of the stress virus
Take a look around you. It’s usually pretty easy to identify when someone is stressed. They tend to sigh loudly, frown, talk with a bad attitude, and look pretty darn miserable. Their behavior may also be spastic and high strung. Stress definitely doesn’t paint a pretty picture. I’ve let it get the better of me before and it’s not something I’m proud of.
Once I yelled at a guy who was blocking the exit on a bus when I was trying to get off instead of politely saying “excuse me.” I was frustrated after a bad day at work and raised my voice to a total stranger. As soon as I got off the bus, a huge wave of guilt hit me, but it was too late for me to apologize. That was bad. I had the stress virus and I snapped!
Are you suffering from the stress virus? Here are some common symptoms:
- Grouchiness you just can’t shake
- Back pain, neck pain and tense muscles
- Feeling constant pressure
- Racing thoughts
- Frequent headaches
- Lack of appetite
- Exhaustion and fatigue
- Snapping at total strangers
- Taking your loved ones for granted
- Shortness of breath
- Constant anxiety
- Rapid pulse
- Rage and frustration
- Clammy hands and sweating
- Impatience and short temperedness
- Inability to think positively
- Wanting to be left the %$@! alone
How to protect yourself from the stress virus
Unfortunately there isn’t a cure-all way to be vaccinated from the stress virus. It can strike at any time. However, you can do a lot of things to protect yourself so you can build up enough “antibodies” that can prevent it from overtaking you now and in the future.
1. Identify Your Stress Characteristics
Pause for a minute and think about what you’re really like when you’re stressed. Don’t worry, I won’t judge! Maybe you yell and slam doors, stress eat, cut people off or something else. Some people mask their stress, bottling up their emotions until one day they explode. Identify your stress characteristics so you can self diagnose if and when you’ve been hit with the stress virus. Also think about how your behavior affects those around you when you are stressed. Those we are closest to often suffer the most. It takes a conscious effort to prevent our negative stress characteristics from hurting them.
2. Pick a flaw and fix it
Choose one of your stress characteristics and think about how you can fix that flaw. It could be as simple as counting to 10 before you speak when you are angry and frustrated, avoiding the ice cream aisle at the grocery store if you are a stress eater, or waking up an hour earlier to get more done before you go to work. Review your priorities and determine what really needs to get done right now and what can wait until later. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
3. Face your triggers
Once you have identified your individual stress characteristics, make a list of your most common stress triggers. It’s quite likely that you have more than one. Next, rank them from highest to lowest. Knowing what triggers the stress virus in you is an important first step to learning how to manage and overcome it. Get as specific as possible. Ask people you trust and are close with for their input as well. Chances are they know quite well what causes you stress. Once you know exactly what triggers the stress virus for yourself, you can start to work on a cure.
4. Create a plan to reduce your exposure to the stress virus
Reducing stress is easier said than done, but it is possible. If you simply have too much on your plate, you have to start saying no if you want to have a chance at shrinking your workload. Recognizing the specific tasks/projects/people/issues that trigger your stress will also help you develop a plan of attack. Don’t underestimate the benefits of taking some time off from work either. You might feel that you have so much to do that you can’t possibly spare being away from the office, but taking a mental health day can really help clear your mind and help you catch up on much-needed sleep. A little rest can go a very long way.
5. Keep a positive mindset
There’s a lot of truth to the expression mind over matter. Think about people you know whom you have rarely ever seen stressed out. Chances are those individuals are really good at approaching problems with a positive, can-do attitude. Happy people are less stressed. If you can learn to always look for the bright side of even the most unfortunate of situations, you will discover that stress won’t affect you as much. And that in turn will bring you more happiness. Believing that every problem can be resolved is powerful medicine. It may take more than one dose or experimenting with different treatments to tackle the stress in your life, just never give up!
Wanting to change is half the battle. Every effort helps, no matter how big or small!
60 Ways to reduce stress. If you need some help gathering ideas on how to reduce the amount of stress in your life check out these 60 stress reduction tips. You might be surprised at how making even small changes can improve your life and how you manage stress.
The positive side of stress. Generally, stress is bad for our mental and physical health. However, sometimes stress can actually help us improve and help us grow. Here’s a look at eight reasons why stress has actually improved my life.
Get help with money stress. Having trouble keeping track of your finances? I highly recommend opening a free account with Personal Capital to track all of your money safely and securely using their innovative technology. To learn more about how their service works, check out this detailed Personal Capital review. If you’re in need of help managing and investing your money, I recommend signing up with Betterment.
Break free! If you’re burnt out of your day job, believe that you have options and can turn your career around for the better. I didn’t believe I could escape the grind for the longest time, but fortunately I wised up before stress destroyed my life. I never would have thought I could negotiate a severance package and get paid to leave a job I grew to hate, but I did! Learn how you too could get paid to leave your job like I did and open your eyes to new opportunities.
Untemplaters, do you often suffer from the stress virus? What are some of your stress characteristics? What strategies are you currently using to combat stress?
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