What is stressful for some, may be exciting, even invigorating for others. Think of the high dive, a colossal roller coaster or a ride down the rapids. Perhaps these all might cause some trepidation in anyone, but consider what your attitudes, or perceptions are about these activities?
The road to excessive stress is partly built upon perceptions. It is our perception of events and challenges that cause much of our stress, according to Institute of HeartMath (IHM) research who has studied stress and emotions for more than 22 years.
How people facing a mountain of bills or breaking up with a partner perceive these things can determine their success or the balance and ease with which they handle them – in part. In part because, IHM’s research shows, another key driver of stress is our emotional responses to our perceptions of events and challenges.
Here’s an example:
A woman in software sales is up for promotion, but must go through an interview with her bosses. Her employment record is good, she has ideas that could benefit the company and she’s sure she’ll handle the new position well. She also had been confident of getting the promotion – until recently, when a “situation” arose.
During an exchange over the loss of a large account because of the late shipment of an urgent order, the woman became heated with someone when responsibility was wrongly attributed to her. The exchange was with one of the bosses who would conduct her promotion interview. Now, the woman could worry herself to distraction over the incident. Was I too forceful? Did I get personal? Did I get my point across? Will the incident come up during the interview? She could become so absorbed in what could happen that she might have trouble sleeping, be less attentive at work and home or lose confidence that she’ll get the promotion, even perhaps doubt her desire for it.
Challenges can throw people off-kilter temporarily or for much longer. They can delay and even derail their dreams, and all because of their perceptions of events and challenges and their responses to those perceptions.
It is our perceptions of events and challenges and our emotional responses to our perceptions that cause most stress.
Two Key Indicators of Stress
Emotional Indicators – Your feelings about and reactions to certain events and challenges in your life.
There are lots of questions you can ask yourself related to emotional indicators of stress.
- Are you anxious about something today?
- Do you have a relationship issue?
- Are you angry with someone?
- Do you constantly judge what others do?
These are all examples of potential triggers for stress-producing responses. Think of all the actual ways you or people you’ve known have felt about and reacted to challenges in their lives: the angry person who shouts and storms about; the judgmental person who is relentless in criticizing what people do; the frustrated person who just gives up.
It’s not hard to imagine, either out of personal experience or by taking an educated guess, how these kinds of feelings and responses can make a person feel.
Physical Indicators – The things that can actually happen to your body when you have stress-producing responses to events and challenges.
There is a long list of the physical indicators of stress and potential problems it can cause: less energy, burnout, heart problems, deterioration of immune system and hormonal imbalance among many others. HeartMath’s internationally distributed book, Transforming Stress, describes some of the physical indicators of stress.
“Stress affects people in different ways. … Too much stress creates overload; your creativity and clarity decline, and you feel disconnected from yourself. You experience stress overload as aches and pains, fragmented thinking, and negative attitudes that things are out of control. … When the body can no longer tolerate the overload imposed by stress, it undergoes more physiological changes to try to adapt to the situation and you can end up exhausted and depressed.”
The Institute of HeartMath’s research into the nature and causes of stress also has led to development of many solutions for self-regulating stress in the moment and building the resilience necessary to effectively manage future challenges. The nonprofit Institute of HeartMath has an entire website dedicated to helping people manage stress and emotions, utilize the intelligence of their hearts and much more. Here’s a link for the site’s Solutions for Stress free resources.