While stress has a strongly negative connotation, in small doses, it can be a powerful motivator. The problem, according to the University of Montreal’s Centre for Studies on Human Stress, is that repeated exposure to situations that cause our bodies to produce stress hormones may have negative effects on people’s mental and physical health.
“There are two kinds of stress. Acute stress is a normal part of everyday life and helps our stress response system stay on the ball,” according to the Centre for Studies on Human Stress. “Problems arise when we are repeatedly exposed to the same stressor or many different stressors for an extended period of time.”
Chronic stress is linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, adult onset diabetes and depression. The centre says that in someone who has a family history of these conditions, or has unhealthy lifestyle habits, chronic stress can bring on these health problems.
According to the centre, stress results from specific events or situations that involve novelty (something new to a person), unpredictability (the person has no way of knowing it will occur), threatening to the person’s ego (your competence as a person is called into question) and a feeling that you have little control over what’s happening.
Managing stress starts with recognizing the signs that you are responding to a stressor—a pounding heart, sweating, feeling flushed and experiencing anger or feeling on edge.
While starting to meditate or engaging in deep breathing exercises in the middle of a stress-inducing meeting probably isn’t appropriate, the centre says that people can learn to dampen the release of stress hormones by fooling their stress response system. This involves thinking about something positive.
“If you are faced with a stressful situation, then momentarily bring to mind an image, a moment, an event or anything you find pleasant and soothing.”
For example, if you get a terse message to be in the boss’s office in 10 minutes and feel your heart starting to pound, calm yourself by imaging the look on your child’s face when she saw her first birthday cake, or mentally place yourself at a favorite fishing or wave-watching spot.
Take some deep breaths as you let the pleasant image wash over you. Sometimes taking a quick walk around the block can also help you deal with stress and be able to look at a problem in a calmer, more positive way.