After Cori Barker earned his degree from the Colorado School of Mines, he landed a job with an engineering firm.
He enjoyed the job, but the work was stressful, often finding it difficult to meet a client’s expectations. And his off time was filled with monotonous routine — a PB&J sandwich for a quick dinner, and some TV or video games to unwind a bit before bed.
Barker lived this way for four years — poor diet, lack of sleep and little exercise. Admittedly, he did not allow time for self-care.
“I didn’t have the maturity to value my personal health,” Barker, 32, said. “But I couldn’t imagine a different lifestyle.”
The one thing he did do for himself, both as a student and engineering professional, was get a massage about once a year to help relax. And this is what led him to the path he is on today — a massage therapist living a content and mindful lifestyle.
Having some degree of stress is normal — and not all stress is bad, health experts agree. But too much stress can lead to common illnesses because of a compromised immune system or more serious diagnoses of anxiety or depression.
“Stressors can really knock us out of our normal routine,” said Tripti Sharma, a therapist who teaches a mental health first aid class at Community Reach Center, a nonprofit that provides mental health care and other health services at multiple sites throughout Adams County. “How you handle it is what’s important.”
Shannon Gwash, director of wellness programs and services for Jefferson Center for Mental Health, says the term “eustress” refers to what mental health experts consider positive, healthy stress. It can be thought of as a motivator because that kind of stress keeps people working toward a goal or pushes a person to excel.
Distress — the stress associated with being stressed out — is when life starts to become too overwhelming, Gwash said.
There is no definitive threshold between the two, Gwash said, because people have different triggers that can cause distress. However, to distinguish between the two, Gwash suggests asking this question: Are you progressing toward that goal, or are you falling behind because you’re taking on too much?
“It’s hard to take a step back,” Gwash said, “but it’s necessary.”
In addition, stress can be situational or chronic, Sharma said.
Situational can include a death in the family to a big test coming up. Chronic stress is generally ongoing and long-term. For example, it could be environmental, such as living in an abusive home.
For most people, the best way to handle stress, Gwash said, is to recognize and acknowledge when you’re taking on too much.
“Everyone gets stressed out, but it’s not always because of the same things,” she said. “Be aware of what works for you. Sometimes, too busy is not good. It’s good for us to have downtime, and it’s good for us to have those healthy boundaries.”