School has started again, and only slightly beneath the surface excitement of the fall schedule is the strain of uncertainty -- the slight queasiness that seems to have characterized much of this year. Stress, whether acknowledged or submerged in busyness, may have a positive impact.
It can drive us to achieve, to excel, and to survive against great odds.
Of course, stress has a sterner face as well. Whether we are brought face to face with a particularly bad year in farm or business, loss of a job, marriage difficulties, death of a loved one, or relationship problems that steal sleep, we meet crises that are stressful in their own right.
They force us, against our wishes to make rapid changes in our lives. Since these crises often lead to a drop in income and security, they may well challenge our self-esteem, or our confidence in making good decisions for our families and our futures.
Because of all the changes we as families and communities have experienced within a relatively short time, and the stress that can result, it is important to understand some causes, effects and ways of handling stress to cope with difficult times.
We know that severe and prolonged stress such as loss of income can have a serious effect on a person's physical and mental health. Stress-related exhaustion is believed to play a significant role in heart attacks, high blood pressure, cancer, and some kinds of arthritis, migraine headaches, peptic ulcers, asthma, allergies, as well as kidney and thyroid disease. Stress alone probably does not cause these disorders; rather, it is one factor in their onset and progression. In addition stress contributes to many types of accidents through human error, fatigue, worry and haste.
Stress can be caused by any experience that is not routine ---- physical, emotional, or environmental ---- that disrupts your life pattern. Events such as the loss of a job or a loved one cannot help but interrupt normal daily patterns, although people differ in their patterns of coping with stress.
Despite personal differences, there are a number of concrete steps you can try that will make it easier to get through difficult times.
Remember that causes of stress include not only the major life changes, but also a lot of "little things" that add to life's daily hassles. If your income has dropped, for whatever reason, suddenly, you must cope with this worry as well as the daily reminders ---- the bills piling up, the children needing shoes, medical treatment, or school supplies. Regardless of the source of stress, your body may react to it in three stages: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion.
When alarmed, your body senses a threat and prepares for fight or flight.
The most important physical reactions accompanying alarm are a faster heartbeat, rapid breathing, a rise in blood sugar, increased perspiration, dilated pupils, muscular tension, and slowed digestion. The senses become keener and the body is ready for action.
In the resistance stage, the body repairs damage from the stress reaction and regains its pre-stress balance. However, if the source of stress continues or if the body continues to respond to danger, it remains in the alarm state and cannot repair itself.
If the body remains in the stressed state too long, it becomes exhausted and stressed. This is the third stage of stress, the one you want to avoid.
What can you do? You have found yourself in the middle of a personal, family, or financial crisis, and you need to be able to maintain control. Concentrate your efforts on keeping your mental attitude, your family, and your body as strong as possible.
Don't blame yourself for what has happened. Many other people are in your situation and, hard as it is, they learn to overcome their difficulties. Find support with friends, family, and others going through similar circumstances. The anger and depression you feel will gradually disappear. Recognize it for what it is ---- a natural and temporary feeling.
Don't keep anxiety and anger bottled up. Talk out your problems with your family or someone close to you. Be honest about your situation, your anger, your hurt and your confusion. Your spouse and children know when you are feeling tension. Others can help if you will let them.
Take one thing at a time. Some changes in our lives are permanent. In time, they must be accepted if we are to move on. Until acceptance comes, take one thing at a time. Set small goals and celebrate your progress. Don't try to resolve all your problems at once.
Keep yourself occupied, active, and involved. The loss of a job or a loved one can present you with more time than you want to think about your troubles. Of course, you need to spend some time planning your future, searching for a new job, or a new way of living each day. But don't allow yourself to worry continuously about these problems. Spend some of your time doing those family and personal things you've been postponing for years. It may involve work or even getting the house or yard in presentable order. It may be recreation such as card games, sightseeing, a picnic or ball game with family or friends. It may even be community involvement. Examine and build up your spiritual foundations. Donate some of your time and talents to a community project, your church, or to someone who needs help more than you do. Doing something for others will help them and improve your own self-esteem. It also will set an example your family can be proud of and may even provide a worthwhile entry on your resume.
Keep yourself healthy through sensible diet and exercise. Although your family income may be sharply reduced, it is important to maintain good nutrition. Shop carefully for a balanced diet, avoid highly refined carbohydrates, high fat, and include whole grains, beans, and five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Reduce alcohol and cigarette consumption for savings and improved health. Exercise regularly to keep fit, reduce tension, and help your self-esteem. Remember, exercise also helps you to get a good nights sleep. Maintain medical and life insurance if possible. Particularly take note if you are feeling depressed. It is important to recognize that depression is often expressed differently in men and women. A good chart with typical contrasts can be found at www.healthyplace.com/depression/men/male..., or you can request a copy from the Extension Office.
You can contact the local Purdue Extension Office by calling 448-9041 in Clay County or 829-5022 in Owen County for more information.