I’ve been suffering from temporary stress overload this past week. My grown son has undergone shoulder surgery in L.A. and is currently recovering at home. My husband has had a hacking, drippy cold and needs extra TLC. Our DSL connection was lost, so we’ve had no email or Internet. I chipped a tooth while eating a sandwich and made a quick detour to the dentist.
Each of these events is relatively minor. Everyone will quickly recover and life will be normal in no time at all. Still, when minor stresses pile up, I feel tired and anxious. Nothing seems to go right. My world is momentarily in a tailspin. Enjoyment is noticeably AWOL.
We all experience these brief bouts of chaos. Sometimes they’re triggered by a specific incident, such as losing a cell phone or straining your back. By itself, one mishap is no big deal. But when more stresses are heaped alongside it, tensions spread like flames in a house fire.
Think of stressors as stones that we tote around in our personal backpacks. We can easily carry a few small rocks and successfully manage our days. If the stones are too big for us to carry or if too many are added to our packs, we feel burdened and become ineffectual.
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We’re also more likely to get sick. Research shows that stress weakens our immune systems and makes us more susceptible to colds and the flu. Ulcers, migraine headaches and skin rashes are more common during bouts of intense stress. Chronic disorders like heart disease, cancer and diabetes have also been linked to periods of prolonged, excessive tension.
By definition, TSO is brief. We can pinpoint the day it all started. Often, the end is already in sight. However, the length of time can vary and produce more stress the longer it lasts. Of course, stress is a fact of life. And acute, short bouts of it are going to happen from time to time. The key lies in weathering these storms when they arise and righting ourselves quickly if the seas get too high.
We begin this process by recognizing our plight. Identifying each of the crises we’re currently facing lets us know how best to proceed.
Next, prioritize what happens first. Some problems require immediate attention; others can be shelved until a later date. Still others may be allowed to resolve themselves without our interventions. Our personal resources are precious and limited. We can’t waste them where they’re not needed.
Avoid making any snap decisions or taking unnecessary steps. Instead, proceed in a slow, deliberate manner to minimize the potential for collateral damage.
Notice patterns of TSO. Do you frequently find yourself in the midst of emotional maelstroms? Is chaos your modus operandi? Perhaps it’s wise to assess your emotional style. While stress is a natural occurrence, it shouldn’t be your default mode. Instead, learn to live on 60 percent of your mental and physical capacity so that you always have extra in reserve.
Tips for beating stress
Need to survive your temporary stress overload? Try these ideas:
Pamper yourself. Soak in the hot tub. Read a favorite book. Take small steps to refill your tank and help yourself relax.
Get extra sleep. Stress saps physical resources and makes you more susceptible to illness. Go to bed early. Take a mid-day nap.
Eat healthy food. Your body will benefit from the vitamins and minerals. Your mind will revel in slow, deliberate consumption of your meals.
Exercise. Take a long walk or rent a kayak in Morro Bay. Exercise helps clear your head while decreasing tension and improving your mood.
Do something normal. Yes, your routine has been upended. But some things are still the same. Play a round of golf with the usual buddies or chat online with Sis. These everyday activities keep you grounded and assist in reclaiming a sense of control.
Keep things in perspective. Remind yourself that this is temporary. Life may be in a state of upheaval. But the dust will settle. I promise.
Pare back your commitments. You’re already overloaded. Don’t take on anything new. Learn to say “no” when anyone asks for a favor. Your first goal is protecting yourself and your family. Everyone else can wait.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com