Dealing with Stress the Right Way

By Nancy Travers

We all have to deal with stress right now and this stress is exacerbated with our BlackBerries, e-mail, commutes, family and work responsibilities. And now with the recession we have to work harder to make the same amount of money; it’s no wonder our national health is taking a serious turn for the worse.

The bad news is that stress will be always with us, but the good news is that stress is something that can be managed effectively by stopping to pause and breathe.

What is Stress?

Dr. Hans Selye, one of the prominent psychologists of the twentieth century, undertook original and breakthrough work in the area of understanding and defining stress.

“Stress,” according to Dr. Selye, is the “single, non-specific reaction of the body to a demand made upon it.” What did he mean by a non-specific reaction by the body? When there’s some situation, irritation, or force confronting you, your body will respond in some way.

More nebulous, non-specific stimuli can cause a form of pain as well. This pain however, comes in the form of stress. You don’t always recognize it, yet the price it exacts upon our bodies can be significant.

When you think about it, a specific reaction to a pain-inducing event, while not desirable, is something you get over (most of the time). A non-specific reaction to a non-specific type of irritant such as the droning noise from the equipment in the next office, or the lingering mental effects of knowing that the bank may foreclose on your property at any time, can actually do more long-run damage than an acute pain from a specific source.

Stress can make you more prone to colds and flush, headaches of all kinds, and even gas and heartburn. Stress can constrict the blood vessels in your arms and legs while increasing your heart rate, a situation that results in an increase in your blood pressure, perhaps to dangerously high levels. You may not have realized that, under stress, fat will build up in your mid-section.

Breathe Now

Pranayana Yoga teaches us to fully inhale, ideally by sitting with straight posture in a chair and letting in oxygen through the nose. Breathe in with a four-count beat, hold the breath for two counts and then count to four to let out the breath very slowly and intentionally. The breath should fill up the abdominal cavity, rather than stay high in the throat. When we are stressed, we take shallow, high breaths that deprive us of oxygen. Our saliva is less abundant, leaving the mouth and throat dry. Some may also experience jaw pain or pressure, indicating a clenched or tightly-held jaw. The body has no choice at this point, but to yawn, which forces the person to swallow more air which can result in bloating or belching.

When we are aware that we are taking in shallow breaths, we can adjust our breathing to take deep breaths in any situation.

How Stress Manifests Itself in Different Ways

Consider stress as the wear-and-tear on your body. Dr. Marilyn Manning, a West Coast author and trainer says that stress is a “by-product of pressures, changes, demands, and challenges that face us on a daily basis.” Nevertheless, the changes, pressures, and challenges that you confront on a daily basis don’t necessarily need to be bad, nor cause stress.

Good stress is what gets you up and running, what enables you to get to work, get to the ball game on time, or clean out the garage on Saturday. Good stress makes your life enjoyable, even interesting. Such stress provides stimulation, challenges, and is essential to development, growth, and change.

Bad stress is the kind that makes you anxious and irritable, dampens your spirits, and shortens your life. Bad stress is a reaction by you to some type of pressure both external and self-imposed which prompts psychological and real physiological changes that aren’t pleasant.

The all too familiar tension that accompanies stress is largely self-induced. It’s a way of your body telling you that you need to be more attuned to your environment and, as Dr. Manning says, “To become more attentive and permissive, to let go, and to relax.” Now that we know that the negative results of stress can be controlled, we can use deep breathing to counteract tension and move towards a more peaceful state of mind.


Nancy Travers is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She specializes in all types of relationships; We all want them, We all need them; How to get em and Keep them. Nancy’s office is located at 2212 Dupont Dr., Suite I, Irvine, Ca. 92612.

For more information or to make an appointment, call 949-510- 9423 or contact us.
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