A Down and Dirty Look at the Different Flavors of Stress and How they Play Out in Our Lives.
You’re a firefighter, an EMT, a doctor, an accountant, a mom. You have periods of chronic output, work, going, going, going, then punctuated by some extremely challenging moments. This sets up a classic roller-coaster ride for the nervous system and our human experience. How do you navigate the ride and perform effectively, how do you evolve from fight-flight into a place of homeostasis, and enjoy life?
It starts with understanding 3 things: how human beings respond to stress, what makes us resilient to what we experience, and the specific skills and mindset to navigate, influence and build self-mastery of mind, body, emotion and spirit.
The Stress Response
There are many cues that tell our brains we’re in stress, or in danger, even though stressors are often imaginary and not grounded in reality. Learning to discern between REAL, RIGHT-THIS-MOMENT-DANGER, and imaginary/projected danger is vital to learning to curb the stress response in your body.
If you understand how we interact with stress, you’re a leg up on most people. There are three basic kinds of stress: negative stress or what we typically think of as being "stressed-out"; eustress or what we often consider things we’re leaning into; traumatic stress, or events we experience as shocking, surprising, and threatening but over which we have no control. There are actually all sorts of aspects to stress and trauma, but we’re going to make this as straightforward as possible.
Most of us think of stress as something bad. It’s not, in and of itself. We need it to stay alive, to drive our energy and blood flow. Gravity stresses us, as well as needing and desiring food. Wanting to build our resume and job and life is a form of stressor. Getting married or going on vacation or taking on a new job are stressors – usually known as eustress (or exciting, leaning into it stress).
Distressors are the negatives – our poor reactions to anything and everything in our environment – external and interal – are what we usually consider “stress”. The best way to identify negative stress is to notice how you feel. If you feel bad, you're likely generating negative thoughts. If you feel down, you may be harboring and diving into negative emotions.
Traumatic stress is wide spectrum, from the catastrophic and obviously intensive (disasters, attacks, violations, life threatening) to the more mundane which still challenge our sanctity, safety, etc (loss of a loved one, loss of a job, bullying, and more).
In a Nutshell
It is said that stress is a silent killer. We talk about it with a friend over a beer but then we don't do anything about it. The truth is that stress is at the root of almost all disease and illness. It robs our quality of life. Cheats us in our relationships. Keeps us from evolving, getting better and enjoying our lives. We all experience it - more now than ever before. So we must learn to be resilient - to do the work of processing the stress and trauma in our lives - and then to commit to the road of resilience. Commit to healing. Commit to self-regulation and self-growth as the pathway to independence from the repetitive nature of stress.