Is your calendar full of to-dos, events, parties or travel plans? Any one of these added to your typical weekly schedule is enough to increase your stress level. Oddly enough, many people don't perceive they are dealing with all that much stress. On a scale of 0 (no stress) to 10 (high stress), what is your level of stress?
You may think you know, but most of us regularly underestimate our stress levels. That is because we adapt to our conditions and gauge chronic stress as a relative measure of what becomes our norm. Chronic stress is an on going, continuous state of stress that comes from putting up with things, overworking, never feeling in control or caught up, worrying and seeing the glass as half empty, not making time for yourself, not taking care of yourself, not sleeping enough, not eating properly and not exercising. You may be dealing with a number of things listed here and taking it all in stride.
Despite how well you think you handle stress, your body may not be handling it quite as well. Symptoms of high stress are frequent illnesses, back problems, anxiety, ulcers, insomnia, headaches, irritable bowel, moodiness, fibromyalgia, over eating, abdominal weight gain or feelings of being overwhelmed and out of control - to name a few. Are you experiencing a combination of these symptoms?
Research indicates that it is the accumulation of minor daily stressors (not major traumatic ones) and the perception of stress that leads to chronically elevated cortisol levels, compromised immune systems and disease. In one such study they concluded, "The relationship between stress and disease activity is perhaps best described as self-perpetuating and mutually reinforcing: stress leads to active disease, which in turn provokes stress".
But what may be stressful to one person may not be that stressful to another. Everyone responds to stress differently. It is not the stressful situation that determines your level of stress. It is the way you perceive it and how you decide to handle it. One of the determining factors is your beliefs. You are driven most by what you believe you must do and how you must do it.
Consider how you might handle the following holiday situation. You are a gift short for a family member and you are out of time to go shopping and get it mailed out. Do you... get angry with yourself, get upset about the situation, feel badly and embarrassed, worry, or feel you have to make up for it by doing something extravagant. Or do you... send it over night mail, order something on line and have it sent directly, choose a local gift that can be delivered next day, or explain the gift will be a day late. Did you even realize you have options?
Feeling you have to get everything done by a certain date and done just right is a belief that sets the stage for chronic stress. If you don't succeed in reaching your goals and end up feeling angry, upset or worried, you will further increase your level of stress. Instead you can choose to let go of doing it all and having everything perfect and take a moment to consider your options and what really matters.
What really does matter to you, your family and friends? Is it perfect presents, decorations and food? Or is it having time to visit, enjoying one another, sharing in the celebrations, laughing with loved ones and enjoying the holidays? I have struggled with this issue in the past, and this year I am letting go of the things I realize aren't all that important. One of my favorite books that gives me needed perspective is Don't Sweat the Small Stuff... and it is all small stuff by Richard Carlson. This makes a great stocking stuffer or gift in a pinch.
Alice Greene, Lifestyle fitness and inspirations coach, founder of Fit Beyond 40, creator of Help Yourself Today, Living Free Diabetes and radio show host. www.fitbeyond40.com