The AAAA Response to Managing Stress and Distress
Stress and Distress: Stress (the flight and fight reaction) is your response to an internal or external challenge—either physical or emotional, recognized or unrecognized. Your bodily response can affect multiple systems including:
The endocrine system by increasing cortisol, which increases energy and fights inflammation. The autonomic nervous system increases adrenaline, which increases blood pressure and pulse. The limbic system (emotional reaction), which can either increase fear and anxiety or make you more aggressive. The cortex (thinking), which can affect alertness, attention and memory.
Stress can be acute, like running to hide from a dinosaur, or it can be chronic (long term) like caregiver stress. Stress can be graded in intensity, and when you have the time and resources to meet the challenge, stress can be motivating (good stress). If the stress is overwhelming or chronic, this situation can lead to distress, which can affect you in a negative way (bad stress). Distress can lead to chronic illnesses such as:
High blood pressure
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
The first line of defense in combating stress is awareness. Stress is universal and part of all interactions. Some people are not aware of how stress is affecting them, but their bodies are. Unawareness of stress can lead to strokes or heart attacks coming out of the blue. Some people are aware of stress but discount the potential negative effects of stress.
You must be willing to change in order to optimize the situation. Know what you can realistically change and what you must accept. Manage your expectations. Being aware of your personality and method of conflict resolution is important; you can avoid unnecessary stress or rise to the occasion (flex up) when cornered.
Your body’s response to stress depends, to some extent, on your perception of the situation. If you are confident and know that you can win, then the stress does not usually end up as distress. If you feel that you are not affected by stress and feel invincible due to overconfidence (“healthy denial”), then confidence may not be so healthy—especially if it affects compliance with medical treatment. If you have no confidence and feel that you do not have the resources to combat stress (time, money, energy), then stress can be overwhelming and the risk of distress is greater. Chronic stress (more than three months) has a high rate of associated depression, which can be manifested by:
Change in appetite and weight
Combating stress requires action. Prevention goes a long way. Pick battles carefully so as not to cause unnecessary stress. If you are caught in a situation where one decision will cause guilt while the other will cause resentment, the better choice to reduce stress is usually to choose the one that causes guilt. Simple actions that you can take to combat stress include:
Being willing to accept help from others and the community
Taking care of your own health
Trying to find a way to relax
Finding down time
Getting into an exercise program
Maintaining a support system
Seeking medical advice and counseling
Avoiding excess alcohol and prescription pain medication
For more discussion on this topic, be sure to check out these 3 Ways to Reduce Stress in your Schedule in our Caregiver Resources section.