Hurricane Irma is now history. The monster storm weakened before making landfall but nonetheless, made quite a mess. As a native Floridian, I have family in every part of the state and all were affected by the storm that defied meteorologist’s predictions. My home and community were unscathed when we experienced tropical storm force winds and little rain. Not everyone fared so well. I am normally calm (on the inside anyway) and usually don’t worry too much about things I can’t change. Last week was not normal. I experienced what I call Remote Stress.
What is Remote Stress?
Having experienced Remote Stress before, I expected to find a lot of research on the subject. I didn’t. I did find a definition of “Stress Intensity Factor” as a law of physics that seems quite applicable to what all those in the path of a monster hurricane experienced.
“a crack caused by a remote load or residual stresses;
a theoretical construct useful for providing a failure criterion for brittle materials”
Put in understandable language and applied to the human experience, I would define Remote Stress as a heavy emotional and mental load created by volatile situations that are geographically removed yet have a direct impact on well-being. If you are brittle and inflexible and unable to adapt to stress, there will be a failure in your life – either physically or emotionally.
Stress By Any Other Name is Fear
Without going into great detail, I can tell you that my 88-year-old mother who lives on the water in Sarasota was at the heart of the matter. She evacuated to our daughter’s home and so she was safe. We hoped. There was some nail-biting while watching to see where Irma would make landfall. Though the storm was a Category 3, not the expected Category 5 when it moved in below Sarasota at Marco Island – 110 mph winds can be devastating. The last text I received Sunday night from our daughter was, “Okay, it’s really scary now.” Then silence.
The next morning reminded me of a scene from The Wizard of Oz. Remember when the house had just fallen on the Wicked Witch of the West? Dorothy comes onto the scene and beautiful Glenda greets her – then assures the munchkins it’s safe to come out. They cautiously tip-toe out and a celebration ensues. Most Floridians were overwhelmed with gratitude that their homes were standing and the expected record storm surge had not happened. It was cause for celebration.
After the wave of relief that most had been spared the predicted devastation, the reality of the current situation set in. There was a mess to clean up and the 100 mph winds had knocked out power. A day or two without electricity is expected and manageable. When you realize you are in line with 4 million people to have power restored, and the days turn into a week or more, life gets tense. 95-degree temperatures, 80% humidity, and shortages of almost everything don’t help the situation.
This is what my family was going through – not me. Somehow, because of this phenomenon called Remote Stress, it felt like I was experiencing it first-hand.
What Does Stress Cost You?
There are different types of stress including acute stress, which is immediate and short-term. Chronic stress is long-term and therefore, it poses health risks. Your body shows signs of stress in numerous ways: blood pressure goes up, digestive processes are interrupted, and the brain is flooded with hormones. Epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and norepinephrine are stress hormones produced on an as needed basis in moments of extreme excitement. These are the hormones that help you react quickly – think fight or flight. They don’t linger in the body, but dissipate rather quickly.
We all know what an adrenaline rush feels like. Think about what happens when you’re driving along – hear a siren, glance in your rearview mirror and see blue lights flashing and the officer is right on your bumper. Your heart rate accelerates, your mind races, you start sweating…. and then he passes you. Whew. You just expended hours worth of energy because of a perceived threat.
Then there’s the kind of stress that doesn’t go away. It’s the nagging worry and anxiety that robs your peace and your health right along with it. Much of the problem is caused by cortisol. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that regulates a wide range of processes including helping the body respond to stress. It stays in your system all day long. When cortisol stays elevated over the long term, it can produce a host of negative health effects. Some of these include: increased blood sugar levels, suppressed immune system, severe fatigue, headaches, weight gain, forgetfulness, insomnia, and loss of emotional control.
Everyone has to deal with stress. The degree to which you manage it will have repercussions on your quality of life. Your stress account can be compared to a checking account. The bank doesn’t care how much money you spend. As long as your deposits exceed your withdrawals, your account health is fine. An overdrawn account spells trouble. That’s how it works with your body and stress.
How to Make Deposits to Your Stress Account
Perspective is sometimes hard to gain when you are navigating a life crisis. The immediate task is to take one thing at a time. Looking at the big picture is normally helpful, but in stressful times it can be overwhelming.
The next step is to fuel your body. It sounds simplistic, but the mind/body connection is irrefutable. A strong body supports mental resilience. Our cultural response to stress has become self-medication and escapism. Healthy habits like eating a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, hydration, exercise, and adequate rest all represent ways to replenish your system.
Remote Stress Management
Stress affects your mind and body whether it’s caused by what you are experiencing up close and personal or it is Remote Stress. The storms of life are unavoidable. Learning to manage fear, anxiety, guilt, and feelings of helplessness are vital skills. Having a plan in place is disaster preparedness in the most practical sense of the word.
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