Nov 182014

By Jenelle DiManno, MS

It is easy to become overwhelmed with the daily tasks of everyday living. It is normal to feel stressed every once in a while. In fact, stress can be helpful in motivating you to meet deadlines or to make sure you are prepared for a big job interview, but after a certain point, stress can stop being useful and start causing some serious damage to your health, mood, relationships, and quality of life.

How do you know when your stress levels have crossed the line between being helpful and being damaging? That depends a lot on how you, as an individual, respond when you are put in a stressful situation. Psychologist Connie Lillas described three of the most common ways that people respond when they are feeling overwhelmed by stress.

The first response is called “Foot on the gas”. In this response, the individual becomes angry and agitated and may become overly emotional and unable to sit still or relax. The second response is called “Foot on the brake”. In this response, an individual is likely to become withdrawn or depressed and shut down, showing very little emotion or energy. The last response is called “Foot on both”. In this response, a person will tense up or freeze. The individual will be unable to do anything under pressure and on the outside may look paralyzed, but underneath, feel extremely agitated.

Although many people picture stressors as something negative, a stressor can be anything that puts high demands on you or forces you to adjust. This includes positive events such as getting married, having a baby, going to college, or getting a promotion at work. Stress may also build up from excessive worries about something that may or may not happen or from having pessimistic thoughts about life.

One of the most important parts of identifying what causes stress is your own individual perception about an event or situation. Something that is very stressful to you may not even faze someone else. For example, Bob thrives under pressure and performs best when he has a tight deadline, while his co-worker Matt shuts down when work demands escalate.

It is important to know your own limits! Your ability to tolerate stress depends on many different factors including the quality of your relationships, your general outlook on life, your emotional intelligence, and genetics. Being able to identify when your stress levels are getting past the breaking point will help you better understand how to manage your stress better.

Just as there are many causes of stress, there are also many ways you can learn to manage stress in your life. There is no “one size fits all” solution so it is helpful to experiment and find out what works for you. Some of the easiest ways you can deal with stress is to make sure you set aside time for relaxation, make time to exercise, eat a healthy diet, and get a good night’s sleep. Focus on what makes you feel calm and in control.