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Activity, Adrenaline and Stress

Updated on March 4, 2010

Anxiety can leave you out in the fog...

Misty Trees, pastel, 4" x 6" by Robert A. Sloan
Misty Trees, pastel, 4" x 6" by Robert A. Sloan

What is stress?

Chemically, stress and excitement are very similar. Both of them include a big surge of adrenaline to your body -- a chemical that sets up a "fight or flight" response or the energy needed to make that sprint effort to reach a goal after a long ambush.

Life is stressful. Modern life is especially stressful, a lot of the social patterns that eased stress for people have broken down or become distorted. There's little actual security for anyone and there hasn't been during my lifetime.

One of the biggest problems most people face is "hurry up and wait." Intense effort is demanded, intense concentration and conflicting demands leave most people overloaded. It's hard to get ahead of the bills, hard to spend enough time with your loved ones to have a decent relationship, hard to keep up with everything. 

Sometimes it seems the stress just gets worse when people are higher on the economic ladder. Then debt mounts up and so do social and business obligations, to the point that people who are "making it" may not have time for a life. 

Anxiety is what happens when you're stark terrified of something and you can't do anything about it. Anxiety is what anyone feels when they don't know if their spouse is going to come home in a rage ready to bite their heads off about anything -- or whether when they get out of the house, that's how their supervisor at work will behave. Anxiety comes up if you're late on any of the bills, or any unexpected expense deep-sixes a budget.

There are things you can do about anxiety-producing situations. Most of them take calm, patience and reason to come up with them or to carry them through. Yet it's hard to reach that state of patient reason while your nerves are jangling like a live wire!

One of the simplest solutions is to move around a lot. Think on your feet. Get up and do something even if it's minor. This could be just clearing out a cabinet or tackling some other chore that's been put off for a while. 

Why this helps is twofold.

Emotionally, if you have all that energy locked up in fear, doing something tangible that gives clear, definable results builds up some confidence in your ability to get things done. Ticking anything off a 'to do list' reduces the weight of the whole -- and most people's stresses aren't one or two great enormous stressors. They are the combination of thousands of daily aggravations and petty things that stacked up because they got shoved out of the way of the last major thing they didn't have the time, money or emotional energy to take care of when it would've been simple because it was small.

Having a real achievement, however petty, takes the edge off of that sense of helplessness. You did something real and the cabinet is now clean, the stuff you couldn't find for months is organized. Choose a job that can be done in about fifteen or twenty minutes of brisk activity.

The other reason that works is physical -- your body is keyed for a sprint effort. Your muscles are flooded with adrenaline. If you don't use it and move, that settles in and becomes a deep fatiguing pain -- it's stress that goes nowhere and a signal to your body that you're facing a harsh environment. It wears you out faster than actually doing anything would.

So don't waste your time with it. If you get up and use the fight or flight response to fight something that's within reach, the chemistry that counters the fatigue toxins will kick in from the activity and you'll have less cramps and aching afterward. It will also probably elevate your mood and maybe give you a clear head to think about what to do about that budget.

GIve it a try if you haven't.

A last tip about it -- since you're taking care of your emotions, do something that matters to you emotionally. If you've been robbing Peter to pay Paul and shorting yourself every time the cycle goes around ,now would be a good time to spend fifteen minutes sorting your workbench in the garage or cleaning up your sewing area. That removes one of the major stresses in itself -- the sense that you don't have enough resources (time, money, energy) to keep up with the things you have to do and so will never get to the things you want to do.

By doing one of those or preparing for it, you remind yourself of a long term goal -- get the budget in order so you can get that new tool or whatever, get your time management sorted out so that you have the time to use it, get de-stressed enough that you can enjoy it. 

This is also a great remedy for losing a computer or video game. If you just blew the boss fight, don't sit there all wired up and ready to kill something (when it just killed your character), all emotionally hyped... and sitting perfectly still at the keyboard. Get up and do some real katas in the air. Move around and sort all the games on your shelf, while you clear your mind and think about new strategies. 

This will also help prevent the "overtired" response of sitting there pounding the game for hours on end because you're too tired to realize you're playing badly. Stress isn't always something involving other people or what they've done to you or unfair situations. Sometimes it just comes up because circumstances didn't go your way! In computer games and video games especially, the simulations are so good they really do spark some adrenaline. 

My daughter put it beautifully: "You feel like you just killed a sabertooth but your spouse is annoyed because you ignored her to sit at the machine for four more hours." 

That can endanger your marriage too... but if you get too frustrated with the game and move around, you may be able to see your way clear to a more exciting situation with tangible benefits, such as putting on some of her favorite music and asking your lady love to dance.

Whatever causes your stresses, the cumulative effect of a lot of minor aggravations and frustrations is the most common cause of stress related diseases. Many people just seem to take it out on whoever they can -- their kids, their spouses, their employees or customers. Break the chain by doing something real for yourself and you're not only going to feel better, you won't pass it on.

Without that depressing painful sense of helplessness, you might even think of a strategy, a workable budget or gather the courage to talk it through with your spouse.


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