How to Manage Mixed Emotions and Identify Types of Stress

How to Manage Mixed Emotions and Identify Types of Stress

Identifying Types of Stress and How to Breakthrough

Understanding the different cycles and types of stress is crucial to your happiness. Many people view stress as an impossible and overwhelming knot of all their problems. Taking the time to break down what stress actually is, the root causes and how the stress cycle plays out in the body will save you a lot of pain down the line. It’s time to untangle the knot of your stress ball once and for all. 

From time to time most people feel burdened by stress - even if you eat right, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep there’s no way to hide from life’s emotional rollercoaster. 

Mixed emotions are a warning from the body to the conscious mind. Pay attention! Getting sucked in to the same routine won’t help you address any of the underlying causes of stress. And stress left unchecked can have serious consequences for your health.

The causes of stress are complex. There are a range of causes from poor work-life balance and stressful relationships to money worries. Often all of these causes intersect in unexpected ways; even if on the surface they seem like great choices! “I love my job but it pays poorly” or “My partner’s great but they live far from me”. Even the good stuff can have unintended downsides. Your emotions intersect in similar ways. Happiness at leaving a stressful work environment might be quickly undercut by anxiety when bills come overdue at home. Ongoing mixed emotions might indicate an overload of the wrong type of stress that needs urgent attention. 

A good first step in the process of managing your mixed emotions is to identify the types of stress or ‘stressors’ already present in your life. If mental health and low mood are already challenges for you then unexamined stress could be making your situation worse. 

According to the theories of Hans Seyle, the first scientist to make a long term study of stress, there are two distinct types of stress that humans can experience. These two types of stress are the unhelpful ‘distress’ and it’s more useful opposite ‘eustress’. Long-term exposure to the wrong types of stress can lead to depression, low mood, problems with metabolism and high blood pressure. Clearly, prevention is better than cure when it comes to managing stress. 

It can be deceptively easy to feel overwhelmed by stress. Most people react by simply ‘doing less’ or ‘doing more’ of their everyday activities. By successfully identifying the kind of stress you are under you can tailor strategies to counter stress that are both personal and environmental. Believe it or not, you can manage all mixed emotions in a holistic way by incorporating helpful kinds of stress! 

Good health habits and self-discipline can only be of so much help when dealing with multiple stressors in a busy lifestyle. 

Now you’re clear that certain types of stress are a mood-drain. Let’s dive into which types of stress you need to look out for to finally say goodbye to that stress ball tag!

What is Distress?

Distress is the most instantly recognizable term for stress. You’ve likely come across the term before in books or on TV where a character is struggling. 

Typically, distress is characterized as the ‘bad’ kind of stress. It signals someone can no longer cope with their circumstances. All stress is naturally occurring in the body. You are programmed to work through a cycle of stress back to ‘neutral’ or what scientists call ‘homeostasis’. However, since stress can affect the process by which your body absorb nutrients you can end up having limited energy stores to deal with stress if the cycle isn’t broken. If you spend too long in the middle of a stress cycle without a rest your body move in to distress. 

Here’s What Distress Tends to Look Like:

  • Symptoms are recurring or long term in nature
  • Demotivates or overwhelms you
  • Constant and returning feelings of being anxious, worried or concerned
  • Memory and problem solving skills decline
  • Physical performance or abilities decline
  • ‘Maladaptive’ behaviors i.e. drinking to excess or taking drugs
  • Final stage may lead to ill health, mental fog and emotional numbness

In his original model of stress, Hans Seyle described how the process of feeling distress can be broken into a three part sequence:

  • ALARM Phase - The body recognizes a threat and goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode almost automatically. The main stress hormone, Cortisol, is released into the bloodstream to put the body on high alert. You feel an immediate spike of energy from adrenaline and other hormones designed to help your body make life-preserving decisions.
  • RESISTANCE Phase - This phase should be where the body ramps down stress hormone levels and begins to repair itself. Ideally the stress cycle should be broken in the resistance phase. If the threat persists the body adapts to continue this phase. A state of constant stress which eventually leads to: 
  • EXHAUSTION Phase - Stress hormones have been present for some time. The stressful situation has continued without giving the body time for recovery or repair. This phase is sometimes referred to as ‘burnout’ because the body has no remaining energy to adapt to the stressful situation. This is the phase most dangerous to your health; you risk damaging nerves, high blood pressure, heart disease and depression.

According to a national survey on distress from the American Psychological Association (APA) nearly 80% of respondents reported a physical symptom connected to stress. All because you’re missing a key step:

  • RECOVERY Phase - After the resistance phase and before the exhaustion phase you should break the cycle with recovery. In modern life you may struggle to make a clean break from outside stressors but relatively small steps like journaling, walking or taking the right supplements can help. 

Clearly tipping into distress is pretty dangerous, but is there any use for stress in your life at all? According to science, the answer is yes. Stress can be put to good use when it is perceived in a different form - eustress.

Stress types can be put to good use or it can become a source of debilitation and decrease quality of life

What is Eustress?

Eustress is the term developed by Hans Seyle to explain a type of stress that’s beneficial to high performance. Eustress is less ‘good stress’ and more an explanation of the kinds of situations where a little stress can be good for us. 

With the implementation of technologies never before seen in human history, life and the expectations that come with it can feel overwhelming. The internet and mobile communication devices mean you carry work around even when you’re trying to be present with friends and family. There seems to be no cure for being ‘on call.’ In fact, eustress is the kind of stress you’re probably most familiar with in a work environment. It’s the kind you feel when you're in the thick of overcoming a demanding task or project. Eustress, at its best, feels like being ‘in the zone’ or a state of flow where you enjoy the benefits of focused attention without being overloaded. Some of the key indicators that you are experiencing Eustress includes feeling a short-term sense of exhilaration and fulfillment, exceptional focus on tasks at hand, and a heightened level of motivation. 

    It’s important to remember that the human body cannot physically tell the difference between distress and eustress. It’s up to your emotional state to decide whether a particular situation ignites one type of stress over the other.

    Avoiding stress altogether is like being covered in bubble-wrap; potentially less painful but dull and suffocating. Nobody wants to have an empty life. In-fact, not being challenged can lead to boredom and even lower self-esteem.

    The 3 Golden Rules for Empowering Eustress

    In order to empower yourself from eustress, there are three main rules you must follow to reach optimal success:

    • Make life manageable: Be certain that the scale of the challenges you might face are clear
    • Keep life meaningful: Address and compartmentalize what’s at stake actually matters to you
    • Ensure life is desirable: Identify whether the expected outcome is something you truly want

    You owe it to yourself to escape the comfort zone and test your limits. Experiencing consistent eustress can help you to be high-functioning under pressure and build up a resistance to distress. 

    5 Ways to Convert Negative Stress Into Eustress

    • Commit to learning something new every day: catch up on the news, read an article or even just have a quick glance at Wikipedia.
    • Challenge someone: Think of a person you know and find a friendly competition between the two of you to achieve a mutual goal i.e. first to bike a total of 100 miles within a month). 
    • Be a beginner: Challenge yourself to learn a new skill such as a new language or taking music lessons.
    • Push yourself out of your physical comfort zone: Take up a new sport or commit to an exercise class.
    • Set challenging professional goals: Track achievements over the short, medium, and long-term of your working life. 

    Studies show that the more comfortable you can be with eustress - the more you challenge yourself in daily life - the more resistance you can have to stress overall. Shaping your response to stress can have a massive impact on how you manage and move through your emotions.

    What do Your Mixed Emotions Say About You?

    Mixed emotions increase as you age. Older people tend to experience fewer purely negative emotions than younger people; particularly strong emotions like anger are rarer in older people.

    The flip side is that older people have a less straightforward relationship with happiness. As you age happiness becomes tinged with sadness and other complicated emotions. So what can you do to manage mixed emotions when they arise?

    7 Tips for Tackling Mixed Emotions

    • Find the lesson: There’s something to be gained in every stressful or emotional situation. Take the time to process your emotions and work backwards to try and find a trigger event or action. Consider what abilities you have to affect those triggers going forward. Journaling can be a really effective method to look for the lesson. 
    • Focus on others: It’s easy to become self-critical and isolated yourself when you don’t know what to feel. Serving others can create feelings of gratitude and connectivity that can stem the spread of mixed emotions. 
    • Surround yourself with nature: Take a walk through the trees, down by the beach or even in a local park can be a great reset. 
    • Improve your nourishment: The right blend of organic herbs can radically transform stress responses. Ashwagandha, an Ayurvedic herb with a long history of use is shown in studies to have several health-promoting effects; energy, metabolism, joint health and stress response. It is an adaptogenic herb that modulates your stress response. Studies have shown that consuming full spectrum organic ashwagandha has a net positive influence on the release and control of the stress hormone cortisol.
    • Audit your routine: Make a list of everything you do to make yourself feel good. Is that a short or a long list? Are you doing things that don’t have a meaningful impact on how you feel? Don’t try to change everything all at once. Remember, making one or two quality changes to your daily routine could be more valuable than a load of changes you don’t stick with. 
    • Practice deep breathing: Just as you shouldn’t wait until you are thirsty to drink water so you shouldn’t wait for distress to practice deep breathing. Try the advanced breath and hold technique: inhale, count five heartbeats. Hold breath, count seven heartbeats. Exhale, count nine heartbeats. Practice at least once a day and the muscle memory will be there when you struggle with mixed emotions.
    • Relax: It sounds crazy, but your system needs time to reset after stress. Sometimes taking a power nap, reading for twenty minutes or playing a computer game can help you gently shift to a new emotional state.

    No two people’s emotions are the same. No two people react to the same circumstances in the same way. Having plenty of strong options to deal with stress and taking the time to work on yourself everyday can prevent you from being overwhelmed down the line. Remember, knowledge is power when it comes to successfully tackling mixed emotions and avoiding distress.

    Share your favorite de-stress tips in the comments below!  

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