Dava Money is director of the Creative Healing Institute in Fairfax, Virginia. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology and a graduate degree in counseling and development and has been working in the area of healing arts since 1987. She’s been a psychotherapist, a life coach, a spiritual teacher, and a watercolor artist, and is the author of Authenticity Altering Your Life.
What is stress?
There are a lot of considerations when attempting to understand stress. There’s the role of the physical body in dealing with stressful events and emotions. There’s the role of the mind in doing the same. Coping mechanisms such as breathing, exercise, meditation, and having a spiritual center are also critical when thinking about stress.
So what is it? It’s essentially “the physiological response you have to any external or internal stressor and a stressor is anything that requires you to make an adjustment either emotionally, physically, or mentally.” So the key to growth and well-being is to handle stressors well, since there’s no way that we will ever be able to avoid them. If you handle those stressors in less healthy ways, you stop growing and developing and you can in fact become quite ill.
What causes stress?
Oddly enough, many different life events can cause stress to different people at different times. What might constitute a stressor at one point in your life might not be perceived that way at another; there’s a complex process happening here. But to combat stress, you need to identify current stressors so that you can formulate a plan for dealing with them.
Stressors can be particularly harmful if they are unexpected and/or sudden, so having a healthy mind, body, and spirit all the time is a good place to start, since you cannot predict what might be coming your way.
Stressors can involve obvious things like losing a job, struggling with finances, ending a relationship, moving to another place, having too much or too little to do, injury or illness (your own or that of someone close to you), changes in families, and more.
Part of what constitutes a stressor is your perception of it, but some events are stressful anyway. Moving house is one of the most stressful of all changes, no matter whether you’re looking forward to the move or don’t want it to happen. But if you can see the stressor as a gateway into a transition period, it reduces the level of stress you experience and its toxicity to your system.
There is such a thing as good stress. It even has a name: eustress. It helps you feel alert and focused. An example would be learning a new skill. There’s some stress in the learning process or curve, along with frustration and impatience, but it’s a good stress, because you know that it will end in something positive and potentially exciting. That stress in learning something new is positive in that it keeps you sharp, focused, intent upon the activity at hand.
Type A personality
People with a Type A personality are far more likely to both experience stress and also the debilitating effects of stress. It’s well-researched “because 50% of our population has what is called Type A personality and that refers in particular to behavioral and cognitive traits.” She goes on to explain that Type A personalities belong to people who are driven and competitive, both of which engender stress. They’re ambitious, they don’t always think about long-term consequences, and they certainly don’t know how to take care of themselves.