Why Ranking Stressors Could be a Life-Saver

Stress is a killer – and that’s not a metaphor.

It’s not just that too much stress makes us sad, tense, and less able to enjoy the bounty of life available to us. It’s also that it messes with our hormones, our cell function, our glands, our circadian rhythms, and so much more.

And not just psychological stress, like you feel when you’re studying for a test or get a scary text message.

There are three kinds of stress, and they can all wreak havoc on our operating systems:

  1. Psychological stress: We know this kind. You feel overwhelmed and anxious from relationships, money, work, self-fulfillment, tragedies, etc. You can even see those whirling thoughts manifesting into tense shoulders and shallow breathing.
  1. Physical stress: This is the kind of stress we put on our bodies when we fall, break things, sprain things, get into car accidents, or force any other damage and strain onto your physical being. 
  1. Chemical stress: This is the stress you introduce to your body by smoking, inhaling pollutants, swimming in water with chemicals, bacteria, viruses, heavy metals, hangovers, etc. 

All of those things can raise your blood pressure, cause inflammation throughout the body, raise the body’s pH level in response to the inflammation, and continue to negatively affect all of your processes the longer the stress sticks around.

Even worse, just because you get rid of the stress doesn’t mean you get rid of the damage it did while it was around.

So the best thing you can do for yourself is prevent stress from coagulating into a giant, impassable, untangleable hairball. 

And how can you do that?

Rank your stressors!

That’s right – compartmentalizing the things that are making you anxious by tossing them into buckets labelled “low”, “medium”, and “high” can rewire the brain to believe you have some control over how you react to these things as they come up, even without your awareness.

It takes some time, but the practice can be pretty calming too!

Here’s what you’ll do: Divide your life into distinct parts. Work, finances, relationships, household, self-improvement, schoolwork, parenting – whatever sections are in your life garden that require your tending to them in order to thrive. 

Let’s look more closely at each ranking…

High Stress

Start here.

It’s important to note that most of the things you originally list as high stressors are probably medium or low, in actuality. But it’s interesting to see initially how many things you consider high stress before this exercise. 

For example, let’s use finances. When you think about your finances, a bunch of things probably pop into your head – student loans, mortgage, budgeting, vacation funds, retirement, credit card debt…

It may feel like you want to put everything in your high-stress bucket. But let’s try…

Ranking immediate worries as high stress. Credit card debt with very high interest rates? That can be high stress. Retirement account if that date is coming up in the next 15 years or so, and your account doesn’t look the way you want? That can be high stress. Struggling to pay your mortgage during the pandemic? High stress.

Great. That’s taken care of. Put it to the side.

Medium Stress

Medium stressors can be thought of as things that are important to you, but won’t affect your immediate survival, and likely aren’t in as bad of shape as you think they are.

Long-terms savings, for example, could be qualified as medium stress. Let’s say you have some, but not the “recommended” amount – three to six months of expenses saved in case of emergency. 

Auditing your finances, although it feels surmountable when the mere thought “finances” sends you spiraling, can begin to feel approachable if you label it as medium stress. It can even be an entire day’s activity, separate from all other thinking about finances, and it can help send the rest of your worries into the low stress bracket.

Low Stress

Low stressors are wants, desires, extras that the thought of not having makes us itchy. For whatever reason – maybe we’re tired of not being able to have the things we think we deserve, maybe we’re stretched thin and want to treat ourselves to some self-soothing, maybe we feel jealous watching other people in our circles be able to fund their extras.

Even thinking about getting take-out can induce stress and panic when the word “finances” shoots neurons back and forth at lightning speed in your brian.

But the truth is – if your needs are met, and you can’t afford the treats you want right now, that’s actually a low stressor. It only feels big when it’s attached to medium and high. 

Separating “I can’t get take-out right now” from “I can barely pay my mortgage” helps you to see what the take-out really is – a low stressor that barely affects your real life. 

Helping to strip power from low and medium stressors goes a long way in reprioritizing our worries, and eventually, to allowing our mitochondria to do their best energy-creating work.

Slowly, when we get our worries under control by halving or thirding what they were to begin with, we can allow our bodies to roll into rest and digest mode, and out of fight or flight.

When that gets better, and our cells can repair themselves and trade useful parts, we actually end up generating more energy altogether to dedicate to fixing our problems.

It can get pretty confusing – but that’s why we’re releasing an entire nine-episode docu-series to explain not only where energy comes from, but how we’ve twisted the system so deeply it’s not even close to functioning at peak capacity. 

More than 50 experts in the functional health and integrative medicine space collaborated with us to explain how your diet, hormones, microbial diversity, physical activity, and more can both hinder your energy production…
And save it. Click here to sign up to watch it when it comes out on August 18th – completely free!

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Dr. Pedram Shojai

NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.