What's Your Stress Reflex?

By AM Northwest Staff

Do you blow your top when you're stressed out? Or do you grab for a bag of chips? Author of Ten Simple Solutions to Stress, Dr. Claire Wheeler, was here to help us find solutions to the most common stress reflexes.

For more information on dealing with stress, visit Dr. Wheeler's website, read  this article that she recommends, or read the following Q&A provided by Dr. Wheeler:

How do you respond to stress?
There are many responses that people have when they encounter stressful situations. The behavior is usually habitual and automatic, but once people can recognize their responses to stress, they can begin to reverse them or channel them into something more productive.

How can I manage my stress if I snap at others easily or have a short fuse?People who respond to stress in this way typically are driven, type-A people who can be at risk of high blood pressure or heart disease. Although this stress response is more common in men than women, there are still plenty of women who may suffer from the same response.

People who respond to stress in this manner need to learn to channel their anger. Trying fast-paced activities such as kickboxing, tennis or aerobics can really help to get out some of that pent-up aggression.

To prevent this kind of stress from getting to people, they could consider getting a pet. Just petting a dog or cat for a few minutes has been proven to reduce stress levels. But if the responsibility of a pet is too much, people could perhaps volunteer at an animal shelter or walk your neighbor’s dog once a week.

I eat when I’m stressed, how can I control it?
This is one of the most common stress responses for women. The unfortunate thing is, the more we eat, the worse we feel: it’s a downward spiral.  People shouldn’t deny themselves carbs, which is what the body usually craves, but they can make an effort to eat consciously.

Try to eat whole grains instead of refined carbs and eat slowly. Your brain will register fullness faster if you eat slower, so you’ll know when to stop, and whole grains are more filling so you’ll feel fuller without eating as much food.

Think about treating your other senses, especially smell, instead of your taste buds. Fragrances can help soothe those urges to eat when stressed, so take a bath and use real oils, not perfumes, so your mind will register the smells as the real thing.

I may seem cool and collected on the outside, but I tend to bottle up my stress and I feel that it’s taking its toll physically, what can I do?
Women experience this stress response more than men do: they’re trained to care for everyone else around them and to ignore their own needs. Many women don’t even know that they’re stressed and just think their feelings are a fact of life.

There will be a price to pay, because these sufferers don’t acknowledge they’re stressed, so they do nothing about it. It will eventually catch up though, with a heart attack, chronic pain or something similar. 

Stress sufferers should make a point to do something for themselves. Get a massage or manicure or buy yourself a new clothing item: all these things can let you pause from life and reward yourself for all you do.

You could also try writing about your stressors.  If you try to recall and write down what makes you stressed, even just for a few minutes, you can learn to identify what stresses you and learn to let the stressors go with the act of writing them down.

I turn into a nervous wreck when I get stressed out, what can I do?
If you feel close to tears, bite your nails, or lie awake at night constantly worrying, these might be signs that your anxiety comes from your fear of losing control and not knowing the outcome of a situation.

It also can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, the more stressed you get, the more paralyzed you are by fear, an unable to take the necessary steps to get yourself out of a stressful situation.

Try not to focus on the big picture, just focus on what you can accomplish today or in the short-term. Too much of the large scenario can overwhelm you. And also try to focus on the positive. Once you’ve listed off all the negatives, think about the positives and take one small step in the positive direction.

You can try increasing your melatonin intake: it promotes sleep and is an anti-stress agent which is found in many foods such as tart cherries, particularly dried ones, and walnuts.

I take more risks when I get stressed, what can I do to prevent that?
People who take a lot of risks when they’re stressed see symptoms such as increased smoking or drinking, constantly changing friends, jobs, or clothing styles and can act impulsively, only to regret the decisions later. 

Risky behavior can feel thrilling and even addicting. The thrill of the behavior masks the pain or stress that the person is feeling behind their actions, and can lead to dangerous situations and habits such as racing your car or excessive shopping. 

Try to find another behavior that can recreate that rush you get, such as taking an acting class – the excitement and nervousness of being on stage can re-create the thrill – or doing an adventurous sport such as mountain biking or water skiing. 

You can also just try laughing - it really works! The body and mind can’t tell the difference between real and fake laughter, plus once you start forcing yourself to laugh, it usually turns genuine. 


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