Tag Archives: stress

Spiral Up

You are driving on the Washington DC beltway, and somebody cuts you off abruptly. You slam on the brakes as hard as you can. A near miss. A moment later you get a surge of almost electric energy, followed, often, by feeling weak at the knees.

Stress is a natural physiological reaction to perceived danger. The body reacts immediately with physical changes, and a cascade of hormones causes increase in heart rate and a surge of energy. The stress response occurs in the face of things that matter to us: our health, our safety, our loved ones, our livelihood, our passion, our causes.

What do we do with the energy we get from stress?
I’m exploring a personal new intervention with clients, called spiraling UP. In physics, because I am a science geek, a spiral is a plane curve on a graph. It winds around a point, while moving ever farther from that point. Spirals are functional in nature, and used by humans for architecture, design, and machinery. When we talk about spiraling, in therapy terms, it generally has negative connotations. A downward spiral. However, spirals move in both directions- laws of physics.

It’s not the stress that hurts you, it’s how you react to it. Yes, stress, is harmful for the body over long periods of time. What if you cannot avoid it, especially in the short term? How can it be used effectively ? We can take a burst of stress related energy and put it to good use. Overall, stress is a curvilinear relationship: A mild or moderate amount of stress can be motivating; whereas unremitting stress can be debilitating.

Stress is Not All Awful

It was really amazing the number of hard hits from which a mind could recover.
― Stephen King, Full Dark, No Stars

While we certainly cannot control many tragic events in life that will inevitably bring about painful distress (e.g., death of a loved one, breakup, betrayal by a friend), we have far more control than we realize over the way that we choose to respond to the natural, everyday stressors of life (e.g., running late, stuck in traffic, misplacing something, missing a deadline, an argument, etc.).

In 1975, the psychologist Hans Selye came up with two different terms for stress: Eustress and Distress.

Eustress is defined as a positive type of stress and enhances our functioning. It is a healthy form of stress that may motivate us toward our goals. The prefix of the word (‘eu’) is greek and stands for ‘well’ or ‘good’.
Some common characteristics of eustress are:

Improves performance
Short-term in nature
Motivates and focuses energy
Feels invigorating/energizing;  mastering the stressor feels positive
Believed to be within our capabilities/something we can handle

Some common characteristics of distress are:
Demotivating and displaces energy
Causes anxiety, worry, or concern
Feels generally unpleasant, even painful
Decreases overall performance/abilities
May lead to physical illness/mental fatigue/emotional depletion

We handle stress differently as the result of a lifetime of repeated experiences with stressful events. Repeated experiences and our responses to them, in general, create neural pathways that can become habitual.

Habitual behavior patterns that can contribute to stress include:

Failing to be assertive
Procrastination and/or failing to plan ahead
Poor self-care, including eating, sleeping, and fitness habits
Being in negative relationships, professionally or personally
Being disorganized

Learning to manage or minimize even a few of these behavior patterns can decrease distress, and perhaps encourage eustress.

Friends are relatives you make for yourself

Friends are relatives you make for yourself. ― Eustache Deschamps

Famed anthropologist Margaret Mead was once asked, what do consider to be a sign of advanced civilization, over the course of your research? Instead of mentioning development of certain tools or other advances, she described the finding of a fossilized skeleton with a shattered femur that had healed. She reported that it was the type of severe injury such that no one could have made it to the safety and shelter of the cave where it was found, without being carried or dragged by another person. Such injuries were fatal. She defined looking out for the best interest of another person as her definition of advanced civilization.

Today: Friendships seem to be especially helpful for the heart, metaphorically and literally.

According to an increasing body of medical research, close friendships are good for your health. A three-year Swedish study of more than 13,600 men and women found that having few or no close friends increased the risk of having a first-time heart attack by about 50 percent. A two-year study of more than 500 women with suspected coronary artery disease showed similar results. Women who reported the lowest levels of social support were twice as likely to die during the study. The women who enjoyed close support were not only more likely to be alive after two years, they also had lower rates of high blood pressure and diabetes and were less likely to have excessive abdominal fat, which is related to a host of medical problems.

As first reported in the Journal of the National Medical Association in 2009, friendships and other types of social support can help relieve stress, a well-known contributor to heart disease. Among other things, stress can encourage inflammation in arteries, a first step toward atherosclerosis (clogged arteries). Some studies have found that people who enjoy close support from friends and family actually have fewer inflammatory chemicals in their blood. The link between social ties and inflammation seems to be especially marked in older people.

When stress does appear, friends can encourage healthy reactions. People who lack strong social support tend to have highly anxious reactions to scary or worrisome situations. Their hearts pound and their blood pressure may soars. But friends can help keep the heart on a more even keel. A study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that young men and women discussing rough patches in their lives had a lower pulse and blood pressure when they had a supportive friend at their side.

Literally having a friend next to you is good for your mental and physical health.

Relaxation Place

I have anxious clients learn a visual imagery exercise I call the relaxation place. It involves using all of their senses to mindfully recall the details of a place “that you love, that makes your heart peaceful”.

    • What does it smell like
    • Sound like
    • Taste like
    • What are the colors you see and the feelings you have there….

With repeated practice, the place or moment can be visualized with deliberation during times of deep stress and distress. It’s a great tool that you can take anywhere with you.

This is MY relaxation place.

Embolden Psychology

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

Thank you for contacting us.