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Stress Awareness Month: 3-S Approach to Stress


when stress is too much

April is Stress Awareness Month

April marks National Stress Awareness Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness about the impacts of stress on our health. It's an opportunity to deepen our understanding of stress and equip ourselves with strategies to manage it effectively. By the end of this blog, you'll have an understanding of stress and the 3-S Approach to stress, which looks into its symptoms, sources, and practical solutions.


What's stress?

Stress is your body and mind's way of reacting to things outside of yourself. It refers to any demand exerted on your mental or physical faculties. It arises from various events or circumstances that evoke feelings of frustration or nervousness. Stress can be a one-time thing or stick around for a while, depending on the situation.


What's Anxiety?

Anxiety is a sense of fear, worry, or unease. Anxiety can occur as a reaction to stress and sometimes, an individual will experience anxiety without any clear cause.


What happens when stress is too Much?

One impact of stress lies in its capacity to reduce our window of tolerance. The concept of the window of tolerance was originally formulated by Dr. Dan Siegel, a distinguished Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA. It serves as a framework to describe an individual's ideal level of emotional arousal.


Within the window of tolerance, an individual experiences a sense of calm, focus, and control, facilitating optimal cognitive functioning and problem-solving abilities when faced with challenges. Conversely, stepping outside this window leads to states of either hyperarousal or hypoarousal. Hyperarousal manifests as feelings of fear, anger, panic, or feeling out of control, while hypoarousal may induce feelings of numbness or disconnection.


Operating within the window of tolerance enables individuals to effectively confront challenges, and employ coping strategies. It's within this state that clarity of thought and rational decision-making thrive. An Individual may surpass this threshold of tolerance when they are experiencing a single or multiple stressors that overwhelm them. Stress can weaken and reduce our window of tolerance rendering us more susceptible to being overwhelmed and moving us into hyperarousal or hypoarousal more quickly than one typically would.


3-S Approach to Stress

The concept of stress can be broken down into three components. It’s symptoms, it’s sources, and it’s solutions.


Stress Symptoms

Stress can impact an individual's mood, behavior, and physical well-being, often presenting through various symptoms.


  • Mood Stress Symptoms:

    • Anxiety & Depression: Elevated stress levels can trigger anxiety disorders and depression. Symptoms commonly include persistent worry, feelings of impending doom, and a pervasive sense of despair.

    • Irritability: Stress can make individuals irritable, leading to decreased patience and tolerance levels. This can strain relationships and hinder effective communication.

    • Mood Swings: Stress can cause mood swings, making it difficult for individuals to regulate their emotions, leading to sudden bursts of anger, sadness, or frustration.


  • Behavior Stress Symptoms:

    • Changes in Eating Patterns: Stress can affect appetite, leading to overeating or loss of appetite. Emotional eating, where individuals consume comfort foods to cope with stress, is also common.

    • Sleep Disturbances: Stress can disrupt sleep patterns, causing insomnia or excessive sleeping. Lack of sleep further exacerbates stress, creating a vicious cycle.

    • Social Withdrawal: Stress can make individuals withdraw from social activities, leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

    • Aggression: Stress can lead to feelings of frustration and being overwhelmed. When a person feels unable to control or change a stressful situation, this frustration can build up, eventually finding an outlet in aggressive behavior.

    • Avoidance: When individuals are under stress, they might avoid situations, people, or responsibilities that they perceive as stressful or anxiety-inducing, Avoidance is a coping mechanism, allowing them to distance themselves temporarily from the source of their stress.

  • Somatic Stress Symptoms:

    • Headaches and Migraines: Stress can trigger tension headaches and migraine, often accompanied by muscle tension in the neck and shoulders.

    • Gastrointestinal Issues: Chronic stress can lead to stomachaches, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea.

    • Cardiovascular Problems: Prolonged stress can contribute to high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

    • Muscle Pain and Tension: Stress can cause muscle tension. Leading to aches and pains in various parts of the body, especially the neck, shoulders, and back.


Sources of Stress

Stress can emanate from various sources and impact individuals on different levels. Here is an overview.

  • Family (illness, domestic violence, substance abuse, loss, caregiver responsibilities, financial pressure, relationship conflict, transitions, etc…)

  • Work (deadlines, workload, workplace relationships, work-life balance, pressure to work more hours, etc…)

  • Media (inadequacy about your life or appearance, information overload, misinformation, comparing yourself to others, fear of missing out, isolation, cyberbullying, self-absorption)

  • Society & the World (poor access to healthcare, living through a stressful or global event, experiencing stigma or discrimination, social expectations, political climate, environmental concerns, global crises)

Stress Solutions


  • Stress Solution 1, Behavioral Health: Addressing stress involves a holistic approach that includes considering various aspects of your lifestyle. Namely the three Pillars of Health, which are Sleep, Nutrition, and Exercise.

    • Sleep

      • Quality sleep is essential for your health. Lack of sleep can make managing stress much more difficult. Adequate sleep helps regulate stress hormones, promote emotional resilience, and enhances the ability to cope with challenges.

    • Nutrition

      • Maintaining stable blood sugar levels through balanced meals and snacks helps prevent mood swings and irritability.

      • Being mindful of eating habits, recognizing hunger and fullness cues, and avoiding emotional eating can foster a healthier relationship with food.

      • Caffeine intake: High doses of caffeine can increase anxiety and disrupt sleep.

    • Exercise

      • Regular physical activity stimulates the production of endorphins, the body’s natural stress relievers.

      • Exercise reduces muscle tension and promotes relaxation.

      • Regular exercise improves sleep.

      • Physical activity is linked to improved mood.


  • Stress Solution 2, Time management: Time management can reduce procrastination and create a sense of control over our lives. It involves categorizing tasks based on their urgency and importance, a concept often represented in the Eisenhower Matrix, which classifies tasks into 4 quadrants. Here is a breakdown of these categories.

    • Important/Urgent: These are tasks that demand immediate attention and are crucial both to you and others. Examples include pressing work deadlines, emergencies, or critical health issues. Happy and successful individuals do spend time here but aim to minimize tasks in this quadrant by planning and preparing effectively.

    • Important/Not Urgent: This quadrant comprises of tasks that are significant to your long-term goals, well-being, and personal development but don’t require immediate attention. Examples include self-care activities, relationship building, skill development, and strategic planning. Happy and successful people invest considerable amount of their time here, as these activities contribute significantly to their overall happiness and achievements.

    • Not Important/Urgent: These tasks are urgent for others but don’t align with your priorities. They might include interruptions, unnecessary meetings, or requests from others that are not essential to your goals. Successful individuals minimize time spent here by learning to delegate, set boundaries, and politely decline tasks that don’t align with their objectives.

    • Not Important/Not Urgent: Tasks in this quadrant are neither urgent or important, such as time-wasting activities, excessive social media use, or idle entertainment. Happy and successful people avoid spending much time here. While relaxation and leisure are important, excessive indulgence in activities with no value can hinder personal growth and happiness.


Prioritize Important/not urgent things. These are activities that contribute to personal and professional growth, happiness, and well-being.

  • By minimizing time spent on tasks in the not important categories.

  • By delegating tasks that others can handle

  • Eliminate tasks that add no value to your life

  • Set boundaries by learning to say no. Some people are very uncomfortable saying no. So I advise those people to say “yes, but…” so for example at work you are asked to take on a big project instead of saying no say “yes, I’ll take on that project. But, please tell me who will be delegated the project I am currently working on”


  • Stress Solution 3, Find a Flow: Flow, refers to a state of deep absorption, focus, and enjoyment in an activity. Coined by a psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, this state is characterized by complete immersion, effortless concentration, and a sense of being in the zone. When in a flow state, individuals are fully engaged in an activity, often losing track of time and experiencing profound sense of fulfillment. Flow is being fully engrossed in an activity to the point where you lose track of time and your sense of self. In this state, you become deeply connected with the task, feeling a sense of oneness with it. This phenomenon occurs when there is a perfect balance between skill level and the challenge of the activity. When your abilities align harmoniously with the task’s demands, you can immerse yourself entirely, experiencing the flow state.

    • Benefits of Flow state in Managing stress

      • Promotes feelings of achievement and satisfaction

      • The focus required for these activities often leads to a decrease in stress and anxiety levels, creating a mental break from daily pressures.

      • Provides a sense of control. Being in the flow gives individuals a sense of control over their actions and the immediate environment.

    • Examples of flow

      • Creative arts: painting, drawing, writing, playing a musical instrument.

      • Sports and physical activities: dancing, sports, yoga

      • Learning and intellectual activities: problem solving, learning a new language, coding and programming.

      • Work and professional tasks:  planning and executing complex projects, conducting research, preparing to deliver a speech.

      • Handicrafts and DIY projects: woodworking, sewing/knitting, home renovation.

      • Gardening and Nature Activities: Gardening, photography, birdwatching


  • Stress Solution 4, Engage in Green Recreation: Green Recreation emphasizes the importance of outdoor activities and nature experiences as effective stress relievers. Being in nature offers a opportunity to connect with something larger than ourselves, reminding us of the finite nature of life.


  • Stress Solution 5, Engage the Relaxation Response: Exercises like deep breathing trigger the body’s relaxation response, a state opposite to the stress-induced fight-or-flight response. When practiced regularly, deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, slowing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and promoting a sense of calm. This physiological shift counteracts the body’s stress response, reducing anxiety and promoting emotional balance.

    • How to practice deep breathing

      • Place your hand on your belly

      • Breathe in your belly should push out

      • Breathe out your belly should go in

      • You breathe in through your nose

      • You breathe out through your mouth

      • The key is to make the exhale longer than the inhale

      • Your choice if you hold your breath for a few seconds at the top of the inhale

      • Aim for 5-10 minutes of deep breathing a day

      • You could incorporate it into your routine, ex before bedtime

Conclusion

This blog highlights the effects of stress on mood, behavior, and physical health, emphasizing the importance of managing stress through various approaches such as sleep hygiene, time management, finding a flow state, engaging in green recreation, and practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing.


If you are interested in learning about therapy or would like to setup an appointment with Person to Person Psychotherapy, serving New Jersey & New York residents, call 908-224-0007 or email Amanda Frudakis-Ruckel, LCSW at info@person2persontherapy.com

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