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The Optimal Living

The Optimal Living Column

appears in the Bucks County Courier Times Daily Newspaper

Do You Control Stress or Does Stress Control You

by Rob Kall, M.Ed. and Rhonda Greenberg, Psy.D.

Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances. Thomas Jefferson

It’s amazing what stress can do to you! A huge range of physical or psychological problems can be caused by stress. The list could go on for pages. A maladaptive stress response can also disrupt your nervous system, to the point of marring your ability to perceive the world or function well in it.

But your stress response isn't all bad. In fact, when functioning properly, it is very good for you. Problems develop when your stress response overreacts or keeps acting when it's no longer needed. The deciding factor lies in your ability to handle it.

Stress in Action

What would you do in these situations:

1) You're strolling through a shopping mall and suddenly you remember an important meeting you have in ten minutes.

2) As you walk across the street, you hear screeching brakes right behind you.

You'd probably start moving fast in each case. Your nervous system is programmed to energize and alert you rapidly in situations requiring quick action, focusing all your strength and concentration to escape danger or make the most of opportunities. The stress response is actually a life saver and life enhancer-- or it was intended to be. The human body is designed to handle stress. The stress response's bad name comes from the mistaken idea that stress is a consequence of the stressors in life-- bills, deadlines, disagreements, etc. The truth is that trouble comes only when we overreact to these basic incidents in life, when our stress response is activated too often and stays on alert too long.

What sets off YOUR stress response? It can be triggered by upsetting, racing, even happy thoughts, and by exciting, frightening, startling or frustrating situations. Facial expressions, muscle tension and increased body, hormone or nervous system activity can activate it; so can stimulants and certain foods or allergens, or injury. Even tension-producing silence or inactivity will sometimes set it off.

Your Body When Stress Strikes

The stress response starts in the part of your brain which operates your primitive nervous system. It sets off a cascade of energy resource activating functions all aimed at maximizing your ability to fight or flee. Breathing becomes fast and shallow (asthma, allergy, hyperventilation), heart beat speeds up (PVCs, tachycardia, panic attack), muscles tense (pain, headache, repetitive strain injury) blood flow is inhibited hands and/or feet cool (Raynaud’s, hypertension, diabetic neuropathy) your mind races or goes blank (anxiety, impaired performance or creativity, insomnia) or different organ systems go off kilter, (reduced immune function, diabetes, infertility, PMS)

Handling stress problems takes positive action on your part. There are four approaches you can use that work separately or together.

1) Give yourself stress innoculations. If you know you are going to be facing a stressful situation, plan. Think about how you can cope with the stress. Imagine facing it and staying calm and relaxed.

2)Reduce the duration of time you experience stress discomfort by taking several deep breaths and, letting go of muscle tension

3) Communicate. Talk about what’s bothering you ahead of time or during the time you are stressed. Keep the goal of how to solve the problem in mind, so you don’t get carried away with the problem.

4) Plan rest and relaxation breaks-- oases-- throughout your day.

Check Optimal Health Concepts’ Stress Management and Emotional Wellness Links Web site for a wealth of links related to stress.

Just a note: If there is a mind/body optimal living topic you’d like covered, write to us care of Focus on Newtown, P.O. Box 701 Newtown PA 18940

Rhonda E. Greenberg Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and personal coach and

Rob Kall, M.Ed., is a counselor, Biofeedback trainer and personal coach at

The Center for Optimal Living, 211 No. Sycamore Street, Newtown, PA 18940


check out our STRESS CENTRAL for more information about stress


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