Friday, November 6, 2009

Everything I Learned About Managing Stress, I Learned From My Dog

By Amy E. Nichols

Stress is a strange thing. Each creature on this planet has a reaction to stressful situations. Most of these are life and death, survival of the fittest type stuff. All animals have adrenaline reactions. What makes humans so different when it comes to stress?

Stress is the common denominator in many health issues. High blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, even obesity can all be caused by stress and our management of it. It ages you as well. It robs us of our sleep. It can lead to an increased risk of heart attacks. It’s not good.

It’s not all bad either. Studies have shown that some stress is actually good for you. An example of a good stressful situation is the nervousness you feel before a performance, or presentation. Good stress can challenge us to do better, to take chances. Bad stress or chronic stress is the stuff that we need to be concerned about. The constant compounding of stressful situations repeatedly day in and day out with no relief makes humans different from the rest of the animal world.

Take the humble dog. We have a mutt that is one-half Australian Shepherd, half Labrador and 100% lazy. She gets all hyped up when someone comes into the yard. She barks, she growls, but as soon as she realizes that it's okay, she’s back to being a slug at the top of the stairs. The stress of someone coming into the yard is all forgotten.

Not so with us humans. We regurgitate a situation repeatedly, reliving our reaction. We repeat it all again, reliving the feeling, embracing the anger and driving our cortisol levels through the roof. For what?

It has taken me over a year to learn one key lesson on stress management. The only thing in any situation I control is my reaction to it. I can relive it repeatedly and whip myself up into a stressed-out frenzy or I can be like the dog. Bark loudly then forget it. I choose the dog.

What stresses me out the most is not having control of a situation. I am a peon at work, near the bottom of the pole in a place where gravity is proven to work as the stuff rolls down the hill. Sound familiar?

A study was done in England and determined that those at the top of the food chain or high up on the management chain experienced much less stress than those at the bottom of the food chain. I’m at the bottom as many of us are.

In a stressful situation, the only thing we can control is our reaction and how often we continue to react to the situation. Before, I would talk about it to anyone who would listen, reliving in vivid detail including all the blood pressure raising emotions. Now I’m like the dog. I may bark or growl when I don’t agree, and then it is forgotten. I take a walk. I fix a cup of tea. I call a friend and find something to laugh about. I choose to control my reaction.

It has been a subtle change. I don’t discuss work as much anymore. I find humor in situations rather than get all bent out of shape. I sleep better. I’m not in the cookie line at the coffee shop nearly as much. My average blood pressure is down. I control my reaction. I am learning to be like the dog. She has it pretty good.

Amy is an aspiring writer balancing a stressful day job with writing by night. She is currently finalizing her first novel, Unraveling a Gentleman.


Michelle Butler on November 6, 2009 at 8:24 PM said...

Thanks, Amy! I've been working on my reactions and stress at work this year too. I'm definitely working on NOT taking it home with me. Glad to hear it's working well for you.

Amy on November 7, 2009 at 7:44 AM said...

It is a constant effort. Laugh more, that helps too! Good luck!

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) on November 8, 2009 at 11:50 AM said...

Amy, thanks for such a fun post today.

Judy's Escape.......... on November 10, 2009 at 9:54 AM said...

Amy, I needed to read your post this morning. I got up at 3:30AM and had a pot of coffee because I couldn't sleep for thinking about my adult son who is making a big mistake in his life. He's an adult. I have no control, yet, I kept thinking about him. Yes, as his mother, I love him, but at this point in his adult life, I have no control. I too want to be more like my dog. Judy

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