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How to Distinguish Stress from Strain in Anger Management

Stress is a normal part of daily life. It doesn’t have to lead to anger. Stress is what fuels that built-in fight-or-flight response that you have for help in defending yourself against things — people, circumstances, events — that threaten your survival. Stress isn’t a choice — it’s a gift (even though it doesn’t feel like one!).

Here are some of the changes that occur in your body every time you feel stressed:

  • Your pupils dilate.

  • Your blood sugar rises.

  • Your blood pressure increases.

  • Your blood clots faster.

  • The muscles throughout your body tighten.

  • You breathe more rapidly.

  • Your heart rate increases.

  • Your pituitary gland is activated.

  • Your hypothalamus gland is activated.

  • Adrenaline flows freely.

  • Your palms become sweaty.

  • Your blood cortisol level rises. (Cortisol is a stress hormone that enhances and prolongs your body’s fight-or-flight reaction.)

  • Fat is released into your bloodstream.

  • Your liver converts fat into cholesterol.

Strain, on the other hand, is what happens to your body when you become overstressed — that is, when you experience too much of a good thing. Think of a bridge that has cars constantly crossing it year after year. Because of their weight, the cars stress the bridge. The more cars that pass over, the greater the stress.

Now, imagine that after a few years, cracks begin to appear under the bridge — small at first, but larger as time goes on. These cracks threaten the integrity of the bridge. The cracks represent the strain that inevitably occurs from too much stress. The bridge is you — your body, your health.

Now imagine the bridge creaking and groaning as it begins to show signs of strain. You can see the role that anger plays in communicating to the world just how much strain you’re under. Anger is simply your way of creaking (showing your irritation) and groaning (flying into a rage).

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