Research shows that 75-90% of doctor visits are due to stress
related ailments and disorders, and that prolonged stress can
lead to both mental and physical problems. Stress can also
affect a disease’s process from the onset through its
progression and on through the recovery stage – even when there
is another cause of the disease. Stress is no laughing matter.

The good news, and perhaps “bad news,” is that we can have
control over most of the stress in our lives. Stress is not an
outside something that “happens” to us. It is, essentially,
something that happens in our minds.

William James reminds us, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”

The first step to getting a handle on stress is understanding what it is.

What is stress?

Simply put, stress is a two-part phenomenon that occurs when our personal balance has been upset by the different challenges, obstacles, and pressures that occur in our life. It has both a physical response and a mental response.

Our body's natural response to a threat is to go into the "flight or fight" mode - heart pounding, muscles tense, breath gets faster, every sense is on red alert. This response saved our ancestor's lives in cave man days. Today, however, we are rarely faced with real tigers or grizzly bears.

Instead, those "grizzly bears" are inside our head. They are *perceived* threats. When we are stressed over an argument with a spouse or friend, see the mounting bills, or a looming deadline, they too can put us in automatic overdrive. If you have a lot of worries and responsibilities, you may be running on stress a good deal of the time, with every unpleasant phone call, traffic jam, or even something in the evening news putting you in emergency mode.

The trouble is.... the more the stress response is activated, the harder it is to shut off. And instead of leveling off once the crises has passed, your stress hormones, heart rate, and blood pressure stay elevated.

How Stress Shows Up

When we are aware of how stress shows up in our life and can identify our "red flags", we’re in a better position to take early steps to deal with stressful situations before they, and our emotions get out of control.

Stress Warning Signs:

- Inability to relax
- moodiness
- feeling overwhelmed
- fearful anticipation
- indecisiveness
- muscle tension and stiffness
- picking fights with others
- eating more or less
- isolating yourself from others
- overreacting to unexpected problems

Signs and symptoms of stress can also be caused by other psychological and medical problems. If you are experiencing any of these warning signs, it's important to see a doctor for a full evaluation to determine whether or not your symptoms are stress-related.

Causes of Stress

Stress is a highly personal thing. Something that makes one person totally stress out may not even bother someone else. It depends on our personalities, general outlook on life, problem solving abilities, and our social support system.

For instance, driving to work and “fighting” traffic may make you tense and agitated. Others, however, may use that time to listen to music or motivational CDs and actually look forward to their commute.

Demands and pressures that cause us stress are usually thought
of as negative, such as having a tight deadline to meet, or
having relationship difficulties. However, any external event or
situation that forces us to make adjustments in any way can be a
stressor – good or bad – especially if it puts a strain our
coping or adaptation skills.

Top 10 Stressful Life Events list from the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory:

1. Spouse's death
2. Divorce
3. Marriage separation
4. Jail term
5. Death of a close relative
6. Injury or illness
7. Marriage
8. Fired from job
9. Marriage reconciliation
10. Retirement

Daily events cause stress also. These could include:
- dogs continuously barking next door
- sirens going off all the time
- living in an unsafe neighborhood
- marital disagreements
- rebellious teens
- caring for a special needs child
- caring for a chronically ill family member
- problems with boss or co-workers
- job dissatisfaction
- office politics
- insufficient pay
- overloaded work schedule
- unemployment
- isolation or lack of a support network

Not all stressors are external, though. There are self-generated,
internal causes of stress also. These include:
- low self-esteem
- self-criticism
- perfectionism
- lack of assertiveness
- unexpressed anger
- unrealistic expectations
- negative attitudes

Stress Management Tools & Techniques

Journaling and meditation are useful tools for examining internal causes of stress. Combined with affirmations or self-hypnosis, they give us the opportunity to “choose” a different way of thinking to that we can develop a more relaxed, less stressful mindset.

Other stress management techniques include physical exercise,
progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, yoga, Tai chi, massage, or simply spending time doing things you enjoy.

On the whole, the majority of our stress comes from how we react to the events and people in our lives, and from our perceptions and outlook on life in general.

By understanding stress and how it shows up in our lives, paying attention to the things in our lives that cause us stress, and integrating stress management tools and techniques into our lifestyle, we can begin to gain control of our stress and begin living stress free.

(c) Copyright 2008, Becky Waters

Author's Bio: 

Becky Waters is a Spiritual Life Coach whose passion is to help her clients move past their fears, discover their true selves, and get on with the passionate pursuit of their dreams. She is co-author of the book, "Success and Happiness: Leading experts reveal their secrets," editor/author of the "TIPs for the Journey" monthly ezine, and composer/creator of numerous guided meditations. Get her free report, "3 Steps to a Better Life Write Now" at