Just reading the headlines in the newspaper can be enough to raise my blood pressure these days. The world we live in is so complex, and stress can seem such a part of our daily lives, that we’re often unaware of its ongoing effects. We almost forget what it feels like to really relax, and we ignore the signs that there’s a problem we need to address.
Stress is neither good nor bad, in and of itself. Sometimes it can be quite thrilling — traveling to a foreign country, for example, or performing a particularly difficult piece of music for the first time. If our lives were completely stress-free, that would suggest we weren’t challenging ourselves sufficiently. Part of having a satisfying life is feeling productive, taking risks, and meeting new challenges. But there can be too much of a good thing.
Sometimes it’s our response to events that makes them stressful. What’s stressful to one person is a walk in the park for someone else. Each of us perceives the world in a unique way, and we react physically, mentally and emotionally to the demands of life differently. What’s important is to find the right balance of stress for you, and to learn how to manage stressful experiences better.
TWO KINDS OF STRESS
There are two basic kinds of stress — acute and chronic.
Acute stress is the most common, and something we’re all familiar with. That’s the fender-bender, the really important gig, and the upsetting argument with your spouse. Our bodies respond to stressful or threatening situations by releasing chemicals that make us tense, alert and ready for action — the “fight or flight” response. Your body stays on alert until your mind tells you it’s okay to relax. It can take 30 to 60 minutes before the chemicals leave your system and you return to normal. If you quickly become stressed again your body may not have time to recover.
Tense muscles are a sign that you haven’t recovered from acute stress. You may also feel jumpy or irritable and have a hard time concentrating. Often our bodies will register stress before our conscious minds do. This can be a sign that there’s something going on that we need to pay more attention to. Repeated episodes of acute stress can lead to chronic stress.
WHEN IT DOESN’T GO AWAY
Chronic stress also results from life conditions such as serious economic problems, a chronic illness, or dysfunctional family relationships. Chronic stress arises when it feels as though there is no way out of an impossible situation, the demands made on us seem unrelenting, and it’s hard to imagine a solution. Over time chronic stress can impact the cardiovascular system, the nervous system and the immune system. For example, it can lead to high blood pressure, make you more prone to infections, and worsen many diseases such as depression, heart disease and asthma.
How stress affects you depends on a number of factors including your genetic makeup, how much social support you have, your experience with stress, and how you manage it. Responding to stress by smoking, drinking more, eating badly, and being physically inactive can exacerbate the negative effects of stress, creating a vicious circle.
Since stress is an unavoidable part of life, it’s important to develop ways of keeping it within healthy boundaries, and to learn how to reduce negative reactions to stress. How can you manage your time better, and keep your commitments within reasonable limits? What can you do to develop a stronger support network, and how can you make your lifestyle healthier? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating healthfully?
Learning how to relieve stress is an important part of beginning to manage it better. Once again, each of us is unique, so what works for me won’t necessarily work for you. After a difficult day, I can’t imagine anything more soothing than feeling the warm body of my cat Max as he falls asleep in my lap with his chin resting gently on my knee. What calms you down? Here are some suggestions.
TIPS FOR MANAGING STRESS
Get some exercise. Physical activity is a great way to reduce stress. Aerobic exercise is especially helpful in counteracting the harmful effects of stress, and stretching is a good way to relieve muscular tension. Regular moderate exercise is one of the best ways of managing stress over the long term.
Express your feelings. Talk about what’s happening, and how it makes you feel, or try writing in a journal. Putting feelings into words goes along way towards helping us to understand and cope with them better.
Find an activity you enjoy. My worries seem to evaporate when I’m out in the yard pulling up weeds or planting flowers.
Learn a relaxation technique, such as a breathing exercise or progressive muscle relaxation, and use it when you’re feeling stressed.
Take a class in meditation, yoga, or tai chi, all proven stress reducers.
For more information on combating stress, contact the MAP office.
Mitch Weiss has been a manager for musical and theatrical artists for more than 25 years and a certified ATPAM manager since 1975. He is the author (along with Perri Gaffney) of “Managing Artists in Pop Music: What Every Artist Must Know to Succeed” on Allworth Press. (Some of this article are excerpts of his book.)–>