The Killer Power of Stress and How to Cope

Scenic grass by a lake with some trees

Even minor stress can affect you in serious ways and major stress can have an even bigger impact on your health. Long-term stress can cause headaches, stomach and digestion problems and sleep disorders, while major stress events can trigger heart attacks, arrhythmias, and increase the chance of stroke or sudden death.

The ‘Fight or Flight’ survival mechanism is a biological response instinct to trigger quick reflexes in the threat of danger—like when you swerve to avoid a car crash. This causes stress hormones to flood your system, raising your blood pressure and heart rate as well as your glucose levels. Other hormones activated by stress can cause a depression of your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness. This is why overly-tired people—who also often happen to be stressed out—get sick easily.

While the ideal solution is to remove the instigators of stress in one’s life, that is often not an option. Perhaps you are concerned with changes in your health, are worried about your spouse or children, or maybe you have financial worries occupying your mind—whatever the cause, there are ways to combat chronic stress and its effect on your health.

The serenity prayer that is a standby guideline of many support groups puts it succinctly in the first stanza
“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”

Whether you are praying to God or Allah or the universe in general, this is a good standby to remember.
Another exercise is to draw a single circle on a piece of paper. Then, draw another circle around it. In the center circle, write down what it is that you have the power to change. Then in the space between the two circles, write what you may have influence on but cannot control directly.

Then put everything else that you cannot change outside of the larger circle. The only word that should be inside the inner circle is “me.” You can change yourself. You may influence change upon your children, your family, and your circumstances in life, but you do not have direct control over these things. You can, however, control your response or reaction to them.

Take 15 minutes for yourself. Make the time. Read a book, go for a walk, have a cup of tea, meditate, nap—whatever you need to do to recharge your battery and release that stress. Your body and mind will thank you.