CADILLAC — It’s Wednesday morning, your alarm clock didn’t go off and you’re right at that tipping point when the slightest change in your morning routine will make you late.
That’s when you realize your car keys aren’t in their normal spot.
At one point or another, we all deal with stress.
Some amounts of stress can be healthy, but some different types of stress can lead to negative health effects on the body.
Stress, micro-stress and toxic stress
Michelle Morse, a psychologist at Life Skills Psychological Services PC in Cadillac, said stress is environmental, psychological and “impacts all parts of our lives.‘
It affects everyone, from infants to the elderly.
It can be positive, like when someone is planning a wedding or birthday party. But it can be negative, and sometimes both.
Lauren Barry, a licensed professional counselor and Morse’s co-worker, said having a baby can bring both positive and negative stress.
She said it’s exciting but also stressful on the body and emotionally.
“A little bit of stress is motivating,‘ Barry said, and it helps people do their best, but where’s that happy medium?
Morse said stress can show up as symptoms of anxiety, like a pounding heartbeat or sweating.
It can also show up psychologically as negative thinking. People can’t get out of the cycle and shutdown, she said.
Barry said this can happen for people taking tests. They stress they will fail the test and then do actually fail it because they are so amped up.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some other symptoms of stress include tension and irritability, fear and anxiety about the future, feeling numb, loss of interest in normal activities, loss of appetite, nightmares and recurring thoughts about an event.
Stress becomes a problem when someone has unhealthy coping skills, Morse said.
She said a lot of times people don’t think of art, music and diet as ways of helping with stress. So they might lean toward negative coping skills like eating and drinking, which can have negative impacts on the body.
Without healthy coping skills, people can get cortisol in their stomachs.
Morse said too much cortisol in the system causes people to gain weight around their stomachs, which is the least healthy place to gain weight and leads to heart stress.
“That’s why not having good coping skills can impact every aspect of your life,‘ she said.
There are big stresses, but little stresses can be detrimental, too.
It’s that feeling people get when they’ve left home and can’t remember if they turned off the stove, the sense of dread that comes with realizing they forgot to wish their best friend Happy Birthday or that stress when you start a new job and take on maybe one too many tasks.
Morse said these micro-stresses will lead to more anxiety and depression if someone can’t handle the day to day stress.
There's also a big push in the community right now to combat toxic stress and Adverse Childhood Experiences, and how they build on one another.
“That really does happen,‘ she said, and at Life Skills Psychological Services they deal with it a lot.
Cadillac Family Physicians Dr. Jim Whelan said in a past interview that if a child lives in a negative environment, it results in toxic stress. The child is always in a “fight-or-flight‘ response mode. This leads to how the child responds to stressful situations later in life.
“That toxic stress has an effect on the brain’s chemistry,‘ he said. “Causing increased levels of adrenaline and cortisol.‘
An Adverse Childhood Experiences study asked participants whether they were sexually abused as a child, if they had an alcoholic parent and other questions about traumatic events from their past.
What it found was the loss of a parent through death, divorce or incarceration and other traumatic childhood experiences such as living with an alcoholic parent or being sexually abused could cause heart disease, cancer, substance abuse and depression.
If someone grew up in that type of environment, chances are they did not learn healthy coping mechanisms, Morse said.
It’s like a “hamster wheel‘ and it almost seems like people will keep putting themselves in those negative situations and self-sabotage getting better.
They do lots of trauma work, and often its based on these types of experiences, the women said.
Morse said adults don’t recognize that kids also deal with stress with school and their friendships.
Barry said stress manifests itself differently in kids, and they will get stomach aches or headaches.
Where Michigan ranks nationally for stress
Michigan might be one of the least micro-stressed states, but it does potentially host the most stressed out city in the nation.
In a study, WalletHub compared more than 180 cities in the United States and found that Detroit was the most stressed city in the nation.
It also found that Detroit had the lowest median credit score, the highest poverty rate, the second highest divorce rate and the lowest average hours of sleep per night.
Grand Rapids was also compared and was ranked 153 out of 182 cities. The least stressed city in the United States is Fremont, California, according to the study.
Although Detroit might be stressed, the rest of the state might be less so.
A Sleepopolis study measured how much time is taken up by micro-stresses and how they can have a cumulative impact on one’s wellbeing.
After surveying 2,500 adults, the study found that Michiganders spend 16 days a year micro-stressing. That’s equivalent to 32 hours per month or over an hour a day.
That ranks Michigan as around the 45th stressed state, with Vermonters as the most stressed spending 63 days per year micro-stressing and South Dakotans as the least stressed, as they only spend 2 days per year micro-stressing, according to the study.
The study also found that 45 percent of people said that work issues are the biggest cause of micro-stresses, whether they have to work late, are taking on too much or are not feeling appreciated. 58 percent say they struggle to switch off when they do get home.
This could be affecting health, as 60 percent of adults in the study said they regularly have interrupted sleep when worrying about “minor‘ things.
Advice for handling stress
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website states the best way to manage stress in hard times is through self-care.
It suggests avoiding drugs and alcohol, as they may seem like a temporary fix to feel better, but in the long run can create more problems and add to your stress.
Finding support from a partner, family member, friend, counselor, doctor or clergyperson can also help. Having someone with a sympathetic, listening ear and sharing about your problems and stress really can lighten the burden, the website states.
It also suggests eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, exercising regularly, giving yourself a break if you feel stressed out like treating yourself to a therapeutic massage and getting plenty of sleep.
For themselves personally, Morse runs, plays hockey and likes to look out at the lake to relax while Barry likes to do yoga, do her nails and the warm feeling she gets from drinking coffee or tea to de-stress.
Barry said self-care is very popular right now, and some people who might be too afraid to ask can get ideas for it from social media.
Morse said having social support from friends and family can be important, although sometimes they’re the stressors.
“Sometimes they cause stress and sometimes they relieve stress,‘ she said.
A lot of people stress about the same things like work and school, so having someone to vent to can be really helpful. Most of the time, people feel better after talking to a friend about it, it feels like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders, Barry said.
Sometimes people get set in their ways and can’t find new coping skills. If they’re used to having a drink after a long day at work, they might not think to switch to doing yoga or meditation.
However, opening up to the idea of a new coping mechanism might be their saving grace, she said.
A part of it is also changing the things you can and accepting the things you can’t and learning to deal with it.
Morse said if someone is used to walking to relieve stress and then suffer an injury and can no longer do it, then they might not think to draw or journal or do adult coloring books or reach out to talk to someone about it.
They can’t change the injury, but they can learn to draw and paint.
Barry said it’s not just about doing the coping method once or twice, but doing it on a regular basis.
“Sometimes I think it really helps people scheduling their time to cope and relax,‘ she said.
Morse and Barry said putting on a calming Pandora music station or listening to a talk show or radio station can be stress relieving as well.
Barry said people will claim they don’t have time for self care, but it’s crucial.
People can’t be there for others if they can’t take care of themselves.
Morse said setting boundaries can help, too, and not saying yes to everything and putting too much work on oneself.
She said people are so busy focusing on their job, their kids and other responsibilities that they don’t take the time for themselves.
“Everybody’s on the go so much,‘ she said.
“You know you need to slow down, but people don’t always do that.‘