Infants have stress, kids have stress, and adults have stress. Yes, even certified peer specialists like myself are not immune. We find it challenging to be fully present, mindful, and active when dealing with serious issues in our personal lives. These situations are part and parcel of the human experience. How we react to them can profoundly affect both the length and quality of our lives.
Once upon a time, stress was an essential part of our survival. The adrenaline boost we experienced in the early days of human existence often meant the difference between life and death. Few would argue that facing a saber-toothed tiger would be a harrowing experience. Our natural stress response quickens our hearts and floods our legs with hormones, enabling us to run away more quickly. While those days are mostly behind us, our physical reactions, closely tied to our mental states, remain.
So what’s next? How we react to stressful situations can be life-threatening. If we respond with fear, our heart rate and blood pressure increase. Elevated blood and cholesterol levels can lead to fat deposits around our hearts. Recent studies also show that we become more susceptible to colds, influenza, diabetes, and even cancer. Around the world, relatively young people, especially men, are dying due to workplace stress. It’s as if we’re working ourselves to death.
Workplace stress can be defined as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when job requirements don’t match the workers’ capabilities, resources, or needs. Occupations like social work are recognised as some of the most stressful. This isn’t surprising, as people who enter mental health professions are often compassionate, sympathetic, and dedicated. Given these traits, it’s hard to leave work issues behind, especially when dealing with others who face serious life challenges.
What triggers tension in our lives? The list is long and includes financial problems, poor relationships, workplace issues, and many others. Our society values those who can “multi-task”, adding to the challenges faced by us and our loved ones. There’s enough potential stress to go around, so everyone can have their share!
Although dealing with too much pressure is a serious issue, we do our best to support others. It’s also crucial for those we serve. Many peers face poverty, homelessness, unsupportive relationships, and the challenges that uncertain symptoms often bring. However, before we can help others, we must recognise and deal with our own stressful dilemmas. That’s easier said than done.
About a year ago, a friend visited a dentist with a painful jaw that made eating almost impossible. The dentist took his blood pressure and pulse, and after touching his jaw, he almost jumped from the pain. The dentist then asked if he grinds his teeth, to which my friend replied that he didn’t know. The dentist’s advice was a wake-up call: change your lifestyle or prepare for the worst.
My friend took the advice to heart. He now turns off his computer by 10pm, gets more sleep, and organises his paperwork. He also pays more attention to his diet and tries to walk outdoors more often. Changing one’s lifestyle is never easy, especially for someone like me who tends to be obsessive.
During one stressful Sunday, my anxiety and OCD were high. I spent hours trying to figure out how to relax. I visited a website about learning to say “no” and decided to write an article to help me calm down. In the process, I realised that my thinking was off and that writing could help refocus my attention while relieving my stress and OCD. It was high time I gave myself permission to relax.
One of the most important discoveries I made was that I could have a more enjoyable and productive life if I changed my attitude towards stress. It’s about bringing balance to one’s life through self-awareness, planning, and action. I realised that I could decide how to respond to stressful events and whether or not to let them stress me out.
It’s important to note that I’m not a “stress expert”; I’m a certified peer specialist sharing my personal take on stress. Everyone has their own stress experiences, and many have found effective strategies for dealing with them. I hope this piece sheds light on what stress is, its sources, and its consequences, and more importantly, how others have coped with and even conquered most stress in their lives, improving both their physical and mental health.
Howard Diamond is a New York State-certified peer specialist from Long Island.