For many years, researchers, physicians, and other medical professionals have been aware of the effects of behavior and psychology on the immune system – and so much of the impact has to do with stress, both physical and mental. Many illnesses are triggered by stress, particularly when there is prolonged exposure to hormones related to stress. While not every illness can be directly attributed to stress, it’s certainly something to consider.
Triggers, triggers, everywhere.
Everyone faces stressors regularly, if not moment to moment. We get a troubling text from a friend, a scary diagnosis, find a discrepancy on a credit card bill, or our car runs out of gas. We are bombarded by triggers every day. Researchers are finding that it may not be all about reducing the number of triggers, but rather figuring out how we respond to them.
One interesting finding suggests that much of the impact of stress on our bodies has to do with how we perceive the stressor, or rather how we appraise it. As humans, each of us performs an immediate appraisal when a stressful situation arises. In this appraisal, we are evaluating whether we think we can handle the problem, or control the outcome. We then fall on either of two sides:
- Eustress – We think we can manage the situation, either on our own or with help from others. We believe we can cope with what is being thrown at us.
- Distress – We don’t think we can handle it. We believe handling this stressor is out of our range of coping and we don’t think we will fare well.
In a way, we are evaluating whether a stressor is a challenge or a threat, a positive or a negative, a fight or flight.
It’s clear that these evaluations impact our emotional states. When we perceive a situation as a threat, we may end up afraid or anxious. On the other hand, when we perceive a situation as a challenge we can overcome and are able to resolve, we may feel bolstered, satisfied, strong. When we view ourselves as unable to cope, this can turn into a downward spiral, where we evaluate situations with even less and less resolve that we can handle them.
Going over things over and over, over and over.
An anxious mind can lead us to ruminate, playing concerns and doubts over and over again. Rumination isn’t constructive, does not lead to problem-solving, and is associated with long-term anxiety and depression.
What can we do? We can stop and take a moment, find a quiet place, and meditate. We can increase our coping skills and evaluations of stressors. Meditation can be the antidote to stressors.