Medical Wellness

Stressed out about stress

The word “stress” conjures negative images in most people’s minds. For good reason: Many types of stress are not only unpleasant, but they have been shown to adversely affect all the various modalities of health.

Stress can cause a chain reaction that begins as physical or emotional harm, but which undermines psychological, social, financial, spiritual and sexual health as well. It is very important to identify not only types of stress and their causes, but also ways to deal with them.
If the body is a machine, then stress is akin to rust, a corrosive element that can contribute to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, nervous disorders, mental deterioration and a variety of emotional disturbances. Stress is toxic and should be treated as such.

Positive stress
As odd as it might seem, there are types of stress that come from positive turns in our lives. Promotions at work, new relationships, buying a home, receiving life-saving surgeries/treatments for illnesses — all of these are examples of stressors that come from events that should, in the long run, generate happiness. But simply because they will eventually lead to an advantageous outcome, it doesn’t mean these transitions aren’t just as upsetting as other forms of upheaval and chaos.

LGBT people in particular need to understand these sources of stress. The pressure to attain and maintain success and beauty are high in any community. However, these ideals are particularly important to LGBT individuals who often feel immense pressure to prove their worth in a culture that categorically rejects the validity of their identities, families and lives. The constructive chaos that comes from success can fuel fear of failure and loss, eventually becoming…

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Negative stress
Far more obvious in most people’s minds is the stress that comes from the daily grind of commuting, working and paying bills. Family issues are common sources of stress, not to mention dating and relationship factors. Negative stress is doubly damaging, because it not only undermines health the same way that positive stress can, but it also accompanies a loss or disadvantage of some kind.

On top of all the normal stressors that anyone would have, LGBT people have to contend with the feelings of alienation and rejection that can arise from everyday activities that others take for granted. Worse is the potential for various forms of attack.

Perceived stress
Some forms of stress are difficult only because of our perception of the problem. In actuality, there are relatively simple solutions to these types of stressors, though the answers may seem undesirable or unpleasant.

For example, finding that a prom dress is not the desired blue but some other color is really not a crisis, unless it is made into one. Making a bit less money at work than hoped for can be fixed by trimming the fat out of a budget. Ultimately, we can learn to recognize perceived stress and deal with it in a minimizing way.

Actual stress
Considerably more dangerous than perceived stress is actual stress. A situation that threatens well-being or authentically traumatizes is actual stress. (It should be noted that people who do not handle perceived stress properly can sometimes develop the problems associated with actual stress.)
The death of a loved one, sudden and unexpected unemployment, natural disasters, emotional and/or physical abuse, divorce/separation and war are examples of actual stressors. These calamities can be devastating on our mind, body and quality of life.

Adverse effects
More and more it is being recognized that we’re not “body, mind and soul,” but rather “body-mind-soul.” We are integrated beings and a change in one part of ourselves reverberates throughout the whole. Imagining the body-mind-soul as a web we can visualize how a water droplet hitting one thread causes the whole to shake.

For instance, emotional distress may lead to a loss of appetite, which results in malnutrition and causes hormones like serotonin to be misbalanced, leading to psychological problems. Being socially shamed is like dropping a stone into a pond, the disturbance sending ripples in ever-expanding circles. Prostitution as a response to poverty can lead to emotional depression, drug addiction and physical/sexual disease. Even religious ardor can find expression in various destructive ways.

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Coping strategies
Remember that positive stress will ultimately result in something positive. Although achieving the goal or gain might be arduous, it will ultimately be worth it. Focus on the fact that your life will be improved by the challenge. Rather than dwelling on your stress, think about the reason it exists in the first place: A new home, a better job, a saved relationship, etc.

When the outcome of a stressful scenario will be a loss of some kind, it is helpful to bring focus to the aspects of our lives/health that are most directly and severely affected. Problem-solving, meditation, exercise and negotiation are helpful tools for dealing with such circumstances. Combine tactics for a synergistic double punch.

It might also be encouraging to recognize negative stress as an internal voice demanding change: Listen to it, then find a way to bring creative change rather than destructive change. Stress can be used as an impetus to transform a situation from a hindrance to an advantage.

With perceived stress the best coping strategy is to simply alter your perception. Be creative about the situation, see it for what it really is, give it the lowered priority it deserves and move on. Does it really matter whether you get the exact brand of socks you were looking for?

Coping with actual stress is far more serious. In cases where ongoing and/or long-term damage is being done, seek professional help from someone specifically trained to contend with the situation you’re facing (doctor, therapist, financial strategist, human resource manager, lawyer, law enforcement officer, religious advisor, etc.).

In instances where there is an urgent threat of severe or permanent loss (death, assault, rape, robbery) your first step is to completely remove yourself from the source of conflict. Then seek professional assistance to deal with the aftermath. Abuse should never be tolerated. There is help — get away from the situation and find it.

Jack Kirven holds an MFA in Dance from UCLA and a national certification in personal fitness training through NASM.
— Q-Notes’ “Health and Wellness” column rotates between physical fitness, spirituality, green living and medical wellness.

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