Stress, distress, de-stress

November 17, 2022

By: Jacquelyn D. Heath
Special to The Milwaukee Times

You are experiencing either physical or emotional tension, which makes you nervous, frustrated, or even angry. If so, you have just come face-to-face with stress – a simple word that can complicate mental health and well-being if it is not identified and managed.

According to the World Book Dictionary, stress is defined as “great or intense pressure, force or strain beyond proper or reasonable limits.” Stress occurs when the human body responds to a demand, threat or challenge. Stress can be a positive factor when it is experienced in short durations. Stress is what keeps humans basically alert to experience and respond to daily living – meeting deadlines, avoiding danger and performing work, for example. However, if stress lasts longer than the short bursts needed to function normally, damage to mental and physical health can be a by-product.

How can you tell the difference between good stress and bad stress?

According to the National Institutes of Health, “good stress,” also known as acute stress, is short-term and goes away quickly. The feeling that results when you argue with your child or partner, slam on your car brakes to avoid an accident, or “get butterflies” in your stomach during a job interview – these are all examples of acute stress that occur under normal circumstances.

On the other hand, ”bad” or chronic stress lasts for a longer time frame – weeks, months, or even years – without respite. If you are in an unhappy or abusive relationship, experiencing trouble repeatedly on the job, or dealing with uncontrolled debt or health issues, you may be exposed to chronic stress. The bad thing about this is that a person may become so accustomed to chronic stress that they don’t realize it is not healthy and can be damaging to both mind and body.

Stress causes the body to produce hormones which cause chemical changes in the brain, muscles, heart, and other vital organs. Over time, the protective shortterm mechanism this creates can put a person at risk of developing health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, acne/ eczema, menstrual irregularities, obesity and depression.

Common signs of stress can include any of the following symptoms:

• Forgetfulness
• Headaches
• Lack of energy or focus
• Difficulty sleeping, or sleeping too much
• Excessive use of alcohol or drugs (prescription, over-the-counter or recreational) to relax
• Fatigue
• Muscle pain or joint stiffness
• Sexual dysfunction
• Diarrhea, upset stomach or constipation

Intervention and assistance from a qualified mental health provider is the best way to help identify chronic stress and bring it under control. You should definitely consider seeking help if:

• You have recurring memories of distressing life events
• You experience signs of panic – dizziness, rapid heartbeat, or rapid breathing(hyperventilation)
• You cannot control feelings of fear
• You are unable to function effectively at home or at work

The bottom line: If you are experiencing stress, and especially if it is getting out of control, seek professional help. Your healthy life is the most important asset you will ever possess. Don’t worry about what anyone else may say or think about your decision to seek help.

You are important; and you matter.

The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the writer and not of the Milwaukee Times Weekly Newspaper or HT Group, LLC, its staff or management. “Community Voices” is a bi-weekly column exclusive to the Milwaukee Times Weekly Newspaper.

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