Understanding and Managing Stress

Today’s conversation is with Michelle Govan who is a stress management coach. Michelle and I discuss the difference between good and bad stress, the impact that chronic stress has on our mental and physical health, and lastly some tips to manage stress. Stress is a normal part of life that none of us is exempt from, however the key is to learn to manage it effectively. As Michelle explains perfectly, our response to the events in our life is what determines our level of stress. It’s all about changing your mindset.

Michelle: My name is Michelle Govan and I worked in radiology for 32 years. During that time, I went through transitions with program directors at a radiography program that I taught at. I had found myself becoming very stressed because of different demands and expectations, lack of communication, and different things started to transpire. So long story short, I was literally going to work crying, coming home crying, and my hair began falling out. I was just a blob of a mess. Eventually the radiography program closed, and I ended up losing my job, but I thought of it as a relief because the stress began to diminish. Once I got myself together, I thought to myself, I could not be the only person in this world experiencing this type of stress, especially in the workplace. I began to research programs, enrolled into a course and became certified as a stress management coach. I began to bridge my teaching skills with the stress management, married them together, and begin to teach others how to manage their stress. There is a need for stress management coaches. The World Health Organization has stated that stress was the 21st century’s epidemic, but it’s something that we have basically embraced in our life. We have embraced that hamster in the wheel lifestyle, to keep going and going and going and we have to learn to set limits and get off.  There has to be a time when we say enough is enough.

Akiva: Mm hmm. Well, I didn’t know that there was this sector of the field for a stress management coach. I love that idea because especially in our community, the African American community, although therapy is on the upswing, it’s still not widely accepted. You know, a lot of people are stressed, and for people who may not be ready to go the therapy route, maybe they can see someone like you, who is a stress management coach that can help them. I love that option and think that’s so awesome. How would you explain, in a most simplified way, the difference between positive stress, which is technically called eustress and the negative stress, which is technically called distress, how would you explain that to someone?

Michelle: I would say eustress is something that, you know, like you said, it’s a positive stress. It’s a stress you may experience if you’re buying a house, you’re excited about it. Like when you’re getting married, it can be stressful, but you’re excited about it and then it’s going to come to an end. It’s something that’s very positive. You’re not necessarily worrying or have anxiety for specifically a long time. Now when you’re talking about distress, you have acute and you have chronic stress. With acute stress you can be stressed like let’s just say, I kind of even put it in the realm of like an athlete sometimes, like when you’re playing a football game, or like Tiger Woods when he’s playing golf. You know he’s trying to get that hole in one and they’re trying to get that touchdown. It might be a little bit of distress, but then it ends, it stops. Where the problem comes in is when we’re operating in chronic stress. When it’s day in, day out, day in and day out, and there’s no decrease in that stress. A lot of people kind of huddle right there. 75% of the general population experiences some type of stress every two weeks. It’s just a matter of managing that stress and then letting it go because it could just be for the moment. When you’re in that chronic stress, like I said, you’re replaying like a story in your mind, and you’re constantly worrying and, and there’s no release. That’s where you’re gonna really see symptoms start to manifest themselves.

Akiva: So, you said something very important. And I think it’s important to expound upon that a little, you said we are kind of accustomed to being on the hamster wheel and, we just go and go and go, like we think stress is normal. Why do you think that is?

Michelle: I think it is the current expectation of our culture. I would say also, the expectations of our employers.  There was never a time where you would check your emails at home. Now we’re working at work, and we’re working at home. This lifestyle and expectation have taken a toll on our families and on relationships. There has to be a time that you disconnect. As I mentioned previously, our culture has changed to that 24 seven mentality to keep going and going and going. We feel like if we stop that we’re going to miss something. So, we just keep going, we keep grinding, especially if you’re starting a business or something like that. When you don’t set parameters and limitations, not realizing that if something happens to you, you will not be able to take care of your business, your family, ministry, or any of those things that are important to you. This has been a gradual change in our culture because my grandmother, when she passed, she was 104. Now, there is not a whole lot of people nowadays living healthy with their right mind to that age, because the stress is different. They knew when to relax. They knew on Sundays, I’m just relaxing and being with my family, they knew when to cut things off, but now it’s the constant full steam ahead. It has affected our whole way of life. We have to put a stop to that by creating limits, creating boundaries and purposefully and intentionally getting off the hamster wheel.

Akiva: And that is such a simple takeaway. Just relax.

Michelle: Yes, yes.

Akiva: It’s so simple, but it’s so hard for so many people.

Michelle: So hard

Akiva: What do you think are some of the negative effects regarding mental health from prolonged and chronic stress? Like what type of mental health issues are caused from the chronic stress?

Michelle:  One would be avoiding other people. Sometimes when you’re dealing with a lot of stress, you get to the point of isolation. You don’t want to be bothered with people. If you do have interactions with people, you can become easily agitated and frustrated, and that’s where my husband was. He fell in that category right there with me. He wasn’t doing anything to really agitate me, but somedays if I just heard his voice, I would just get so agitated and upset. I was just under so much stress and I just didn’t know at that time, how to relieve that stress. You can also experience that feeling of being overwhelmed and like you’re losing control. You can find yourself constantly worrying because there’s many people that might have slept from let’s just say, nine o’clock at night to seven o’clock in the morning, and they still feel tired. Well, that’s because your mind never shut down. Your physical body might have been lying in the bed, but your mind was going, because you’re worried about whatever the circumstances are. You’re not getting the rest that you really need, so you get up tired, because mentally you’re thinking of these things and you’re not actually resting, and your mind has not stopped.

Akiva: Yeah, so it sounds like the mental health problems could morph into anxiety, depression, probably even like panic attacks.

Michelle: Yes. I had one once and I was like, oh my gosh, is this what it feels like. When I was going through my situation, I felt this pressure, like a physical pressure on me and it sent me into, almost a panic while I was driving. It was a feeling that I didn’t want to feel anymore.

Akiva: Okay, well good for you for recognizing that and knowing that you need to do something about it.

Michelle: Yes!

Akiva: So okay, now let’s move to physical health, because I know that there is tons of research out there on how stress causes our physical illness. I don’t remember the exact percentage and statistics right now. But I would say most our physical health problems come from stress. What can you say about that?

Michelle: Let me tell you, you’re absolutely right.  Many doctors now, when they can’t pinpoint an actual reason why people are experiencing certain symptoms, they will ask, what is stressing you, or are you worried about something? Do you have anxiety? What I personally experienced was, as I mentioned the hair loss and an upset stomach, and I had upset stomach all the time. I remember the doctor saying, are you stressed about something because that can cause certain types of GI distress. When you have aches and pains and tense muscles, you’ll feel that all in your neck and throughout your back. You can also have weight gain or weight loss, depending on how you go. Some people when stressed, may overeat and overindulge, and some people will just stop eating. Others may experience a clenched jaw and may have TMJ problems because of clenching their jaw all the time and grinding of their teeth. Frequently, people experience headaches and possibly increase blood pressure. So those are some of the physical things that you might experience.

Akiva: Oh, wow, that’s good info. So, what would be some stress management tips that you can offer? In general, but especially now going through what we’re going through with the whole COVID chaos as you put it, how can people minimize their stress?

Michelle: Honestly, I would say disconnect from the TV, the electronics, social media and give your mind time to relax and rest. Information is running rampant on every channel, everybody is broadcasting about COVID 19 and that can send you into a frenzy, information overload. It’s just so much and we have to take time to disconnect from that. I mean watch something different, watch something funny because one of the things that people don’t realize is that laughter helps to boost the immune system. I would say to continue to exercise.  Walk around your development, keeping your six feet and really get outside on the days like today when it’s nice outside for your physical and mental wellbeing. Also set limits.  Learn to tell people no. You can’t say yes to everyone’s request.  Also, because of the current situation, people are very frustrated. They don’t know what to do. They have to accept that there’s somethings that are out of their control, and they just have to shift their mindset. The COVID 19 is here. Okay? How do I manage my family? Okay, my job tells me now I have to possibly shift hours, etc. So, it’s a matter of adjusting. But some people will be stressed about those adjustments. Others are a little more resilient and will just say, you know these are the cards I have been dealt, and now I need to do what I have to do. I think that’s the best way to handle it because there’s always going to be a change happening, whether it was this or something else, but really, stress comes from how we respond to change.

Akiva: I love that! That was perfect.

Michelle: Whatever the change is, how we respond to it, whether negatively or positively, during any stressful time and even now, it’s about making the right choice.  You have to make sure that you are choosing the right tools to reduce your stress. You don’t want to choose destructive releases because some people might turn to drugs. Some might turn to alcohol; some people might turn to compulsive behavior. Now that is going to add on to your stress eventually. So, you don’t want to use destructive things to address your stress. You want to do something that’s going to be positive. That’s going to build you up.

 Akiva: That was perfect. So how about we finish out with anything you would like to add, anything you think will be helpful.

Michelle: Okay, my takeaway tip is even though we’re going through stressful situations and stressful times, remember that these times won’t last always. It’s about changing your mindset. You deal with the moment, and then you keep on going. Stress has tentacles that can reach and affect your mental, your physical, and your emotional wellbeing. It can also affect your finances; it can affect your relationships. Your response is going to be what’s going to either keep you down, or are you going to be resilient and use your bounce back buoyancy and come up and rise out of the circumstance.

Akiva: Perfect, thank you. I feel like that is an excellent place to end.

The entire world is living through uncertain times, we have never experienced any thing like COVID-19 before and it’s normal to be stressed and afraid. However you are not alone, if you need any assistance navigating these uncharted waters Michelle and I are here to support you.

Akiva’s contact info is:

http://www.beyondlimitsmhw.com

Michelle’s contact info is:

Email: micgovan@yahoo.com

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/micgovan

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