The Effects of Stress

In our fast-paced society, there are many things that bring stress into our lives.

When you are stressed, your body may respond in several ways. In most cases, we tend to favor one way over the others. For example, when I get really stressed, my stomach becomes tense and I feel somewhat nauseated. I have a friend whose heart would race when he became stressed. While we may all act a bit differently, knowing the signs of stress can help us recognize that our body is trying to tell us something; it’s time to slow down!

Stress causes the release of chemicals in your bloodstream. These chemicals may result in the following symptoms:

  • Pounding heart
  • Rising blood pressure
  • A tense stomach
  • Muscle tightnessOver time, continued stress can have quite a negative effect on your well – being.
  • You may show some of the following symptoms:
  • Physical effects: frequent colds or flu, headaches, trouble sleeping, tense muscles, skin problems or digestive problems.
  • Mental effects: trouble concentrating or remembering. Difficulty learning, and you may have frequent negative thoughts.
  • Emotional effects: increased anxiety, depression, anger, or irritability.
  • Behavioral effects: eating poorly, driving recklessly, or indulging in substance abuse. Increased aggression or irritability toward others.

Know how your body responds to stress, and when you see the signals, pay attention.  Take the time to work on reducing your stress.  Your body will thank you for it!

(Adapted from the Veterans Health Library)

HYPERVIGILANCE: ALWAYS ON THE EDGE

Having PTSD means being stuck in high alert mode.  You are aware of everything going on around you all the time.  The problem with this is that it requires a tremendous amount of energy to maintain, plus you are already operating at full speed.  It’s very difficult to cope with additional stressors when you’re already at the peak of hypevigilance.

Part of learning to cope, is learning how to reduce those stressors, or at least, control your reaction to them somewhat.  Finding activities that help you relax can be a good way of reducing some of that stress.  Then, when other stressors come along, you won’t go to pieces because you’re so overloaded.

There are so many things you can do to change your focus.  Find something you really enjoy, and give yourself permission to let go and really enjoy it.  For example, if you’re a hunter, go hunting more often.  I believe there is healing in walking through the woods even if you don’t see any game.  If you love to fish, get out there and fish.  For you it is therapeutic.  If you can lose yourself in a good book, then get to the library and choose a topic you’re interested in and dig in.

The thing is we need to get engaged in life again rather than sitting on the sidelines watching to see that we’re safe.  None of us can truly control everything that’s going on.  I finally reached the state where I said I would let go of some of my need to control in order to enjoy life.  After all, what good is it if I spend my entire life focused on keeping myself safe and never experience joy again?  Far better to dance in the sun a bit and, if that bad things come of it, then at least I danced in the sun!

I would rather spend my energy doing something I love than worrying about something I can’t control.  In the long run, I think I’d rather have quality than quantity.  I want a life worth living, not to live a life that bleeds me of every ounce of joy expended in just existing.  I want to dance in the sun…don’t you?

RESPECT & DIGNITY 101

The other day I took a drive in the country to find a cider mill in the hopes of purchasing some fresh cider.  I asked Jack, a good friend, to go along because I knew he would enjoy the drive too.  We had a great time, eating freshly made donuts and drinking apple cider!  After we were done, we returned to my house to visit.

 

As dark began falling, it was time to take Jack home.  It is not particularly difficult as, even though he has a disability, Jack has worked out a plan for getting down the stairs and into my car.  Jack is a veteran, and he manages quite well in spite of his disability.   I know how important it is for him to maintain his dignity and manage on his own, so I stood by to help if he asked, but I didn’t rush to his aid.  I know he values his independence and doesn’t like to feel he’s a burden to anyone.

 

As Jack made his way slowly down the steps, a neighbor arrived.  The neighbor, we’ll call him Joe for the sake of this article, turned to me and said, “Chris, can I help him down the stairs?”  I replied, “No, thanks, he’s fine.  He doesn’t need any help.”  Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough.  Perhaps Joe simply didn’t believe me.  Whatever the reason, he rushed up the steps, grabbed Jack by the arm and proceeded to “help” him down.  I could see the anger flash across Jack’s face, and at one point, Joe even threw Jack off balance and ran the risk of making him fall as he held onto his arm.

 

To begin with, Joe should not have directed his question to me; he should have asked Jack directly whether he needed help.  Jack is perfectly capable of making decisions on his own.  And, Joe should have listened when I told him Jack didn’t need help.

 

After we got in the car and headed off to Jack’s house, he turned to me and said, “I had a great time today, but Joe made me feel like I was disabled and helpless.  I don’t like that feeling.  I know he wanted to help, but it really didn’t help me at all – it just made me feel like I’m a burden on everyone.”

 

All too often people try to help others who have disabilities, and although it’s with good intentions, it is proper to ask if they want help.  Jack had a tried and tested method of managing stairs and that should have been respected.  Joe actually placed him in greater danger when he threw Jack off balance trying to help him.  We need to remember that veterans with disabilities know best whether they need help or not.  They have had enough losses already; we don’t need to make things worse by stripping them of their dignity too.

 

 

 

 

IT ALL DEPENDS ON YOUR PLAN

With all the recent attention Hurricane Matthew is getting (and rightly so!), I’ve really wondered and worried about what’s happening to those veterans who have been forced to evacuate from their homes who have PTSD.  It’s pretty frightening to think about having to go to an evacuation center when you have any kind of mental health disorder, but with PTSD, one of the symptoms is avoidance of other people.  It’s hard to avoid other people when you’re sleeping in a gymnasium with hundreds of them!

Because I also have a diagnosis of PTSD, I really empathize with those individuals who are in this situation at this time.  Having PTSD and coping with it on a daily basis can be difficult enough without having to be in an environment where you’re crowded and overwhelmed and worried about what’s happening to your home, your family and your friends.  I keep thinking about how uncomfortable I’d be in the same situation.

I guess that’s why it’s so important to plan ahead for disaster situations.  We all think nothing is going to happen to us, but things do happen and we need to have a plan for how we’re going to respond.  For me, either going to a motel where I could have a room to myself, or going to a friend’s home where there weren’t so many people would be a best case scenario.  Fortunately, I’ve made those arrangements in case something like this happens.

I recently spoke to a group of individuals who suffer from mental health issues.  We talked about what it would be like to be in a disaster, how it might affect us and how we might respond.  We all designed a plan so we’d have an alternative choice rather than having to go to public housing.  Since nothing is carved in stone, we also talked about how we could cope with being in a public shelter if necessary.

Please, take the time to think about what your needs would be and how you could make the situation work if you needed to do so.  Electing to stay put when the likelihood you’ll end up in extreme danger isn’t the best option.  Thinking ahead and designing a plan you can fall back on is.

Some of the things to think about:

  • Do you have extra medications packed and ready to go if you had to evacuate in a hurry?
  • Do you have a contact person out –of-state you could call to let know you’re ok who could pass that information on to family and friends?
  • Do you have transportation to an emergency shelter and anything packed in your Go Kit to make the stay there more private and more comfortable?
  • Do you have a little money set aside for the event of an emergency so you could afford a motel if necessary?
  • Do you have back up assistive technology items available? For example, if you use a power wheelchair, do you have a manual one available in the event of a long term power failure?