The term ‘Stress’ is used to label a set of physical and emotional reactions we experience when we are confronted with things or events that are challenging or dangerous. When we experience stress, our mind gets revved up, our attention gets focused on the problem to be solved, and our body gets energized. Our stress reaction helps us to meet challenges we are faced with. For example, if you are crossing the street and see a bus suddenly coming towards you, it is your stress response that enables you to recognize the threat and get to safety quickly.
A little stress in our lives can be a good thing. People tend to perform better when under a moderate amount of stress than they do when they are not stressed at all. Moderate amounts of stress can motivate you to be more productive and to get more done.
Too much stress tends to impact us in a negative way. When we experience more stress than what we are comfortable with, we run out of extra energy, our minds get tired and we start to fatigue. This is when stress turns into distress. Feelings of distress affect our ability to perform tasks and to successfully respond to threats. Our recognition that our strength is lagging or inadequate to the task can start up a negative spiral where we become increasingly more stressed about being stressed.
Our stress responses work best for us when the problems and dangers we face are easy to figure out and can be dealt with in a short period of time. It is a fact of life in the modern world, however, that many life problems and dangers are complex and may take a very long time to resolve (if resolution is possible at all). The unresolving stress of facing chronic, difficult to resolve problems can leave us feeling burnt out, fatigued, pressured and spent. Because the world does not stop for us to recover, many of us end up living our lives in a state of perpetual unhealthy stress.
Although it isn’t possible to change the stressful nature of the world, it is possible to learn to manage stress so that it doesn’t become overwhelming. As you’ll learn by exploring this topic center, a variety of psychological and physical techniques including exercise, relaxation, meditation, play and thought-change techniques drawn from psychotherapy are readily available tools one can use to increase serenity and resilience, and decrease burnout and fatigue.
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