Stress is bad for you, so bad it can kill you. Studies now reveal that stress causes deterioration in everything from your gums to your heart and can make you more susceptible to everything from the common cold to cancer. Let’s just list a few: forgetfulness, insomnia, headaches, trouble concentrating, confusion, depression, anxiety, heart disease, hypertension, high blood pressure…and at least 100 more maladies – some are minor irritations, some deadly.
So is the answer to avoid stress? Go live in a desert someplace and you will have stress from loneliness. In short, you can’t avoid stress, but you can learn
to cope with it; in fact, you must learn to cope with it or fall prey to its destructive force.
Shelley Taylor, one of the foremost researchers on coping with stress, has a helpful way of reviewing the basics. As she puts it, coping is our intervention between the stresses we face and the effects they have on our mental and physical health.
The links between chronic stress and depression are well-established, and stress-related changes in the immune system seem to tie depression to a process of inflammation as well. Instead of the normal rhythm of response to stress followed by relaxing back to a normal state, depression tends to keep our sensitivity to stress on high alert.
The sudden increase in heart-rate and blood pressure, the release of cortisol and other chemicals that turn up certain reactions and turn down others become more chronic in nature. In depression, events that others can handle without stress can become triggers for intense reactions.
So what are we to do? What are the tools to help any of us cope with depression? For one, we can accept the universe. It is as it is; there is no conspiracy by God or anyone else to make your life miserable. You don’t have to blame anyone; you don’t have to feel guilty. You can control what you can control, and that is all you can do. One thing you can control is the way you think. Change your thinking to expect that things will work out well, not bad, even in the face of the fiercest winds of life. Think highly of yourself. You are a child of God, and God does not make junk. Seek the counsel of family and friends you can trust. You are part of a universe where good people help each other. Find those good people.
Shelley Taylor and her colleagues have helped to refine the focus of efforts to improve coping. They make a simple point. It’s more helpful to work on practical coping skills and processes than the beliefs and attitudes that give rise to them, and in so doing that you will get better.
And isn’t that what we all want to do – get better. It’s not just medication. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, for example, helps us deal with the causes of our stress instead of the symptoms. And taking a spiritual approach to stress is a proven antidote to stress. Put these together and you have…body, soul, and spirit. Just like dealing with depression, dealing with stress is a three-pronged approach. A rope of three cords is not easily broken.