We each live unique lives. Similar circumstances and events can affect individuals in very different ways.
Our individual response to stress is influenced by infinite factors, including our cultural background and personal history. Those who have met with disappointment and injustice throughout life may feel powerless and overwhelmed by an economic downturn that to another may be just a minor downer in a long series of ups and downs that have been accepted as the nature of life.
In health care, we recognize that people may have a predisposition towards certain conditions when confronted with excessive stress. If you have an addictive personality, you may deal with stress by drinking, gambling, using street drugs or abusing prescription medications.
If you are prone to anxiety, stress may provoke an increase in panic attacks, obsessive thinking, compulsive activity or avoidant behaviour. If you have a tendency towards a mood disorder, stress may trigger an episode of depression or mania.
Workaholics – doctors included – tend to work more when they are under more stress. This creates the unhealthy vicious cycle of increasing stress from excessive work and the neglect of the other important areas of life. Work is good, but too much work is not.
In a hostile or unpredictable world, we may find some relief by choosing our favourite comfort foods. Many of us may react to stress with compulsive eating, and those compulsions usually don’t involve a lot of fresh vegetables.
Exercise is one of the healthiest ways to cope with stress. It releases natural endorphins that bring about a sense of wellbeing. No matter how tired or achy I might feel before I jump into a pool, I always feel better within 30 minutes.
However, excessive exercise can be surprisingly unhealthy. The signs include unwanted weight loss, extreme fatigue, and overuse injuries (including tendon and muscle strains). You may actually lose muscle by burning more calories than you consume and not allowing for adequate rest and recovery.
How do you cope with stress? Does it support good health and personal wellbeing? Do your coping strategies create greater stresses or imbalances in your life?