Dealing with Stress
Stress has become an intricate part of our daily lives. It is often unavoidable and, in some cases, has even become a badge of honour to reach the point of burn-out. Sometimes we experience short, stressful events, called acute stress. Other times stressful events might be prolonged, and we call that chronic stress.
Stress is not always a bad thing, and our bodies are uniquely equipped to deal with these moments. We become hyper-aware, stronger, and ready to take action. But in some cases, we might also become overwhelmed, discouraged, and helpless.
Learning to come with stress in its various forms can help you lead a happier and healthier life.
The Fight-or-flight response.
Whenever you face a threatening situation, your body releases stress hormones. These hormones include adrenaline and cortisol, and they cause your body to respond in a particular way. Your heart starts racing to provide blood to specific organs, your muscles tense up, your breathing increases, and you become super aware of your surroundings and environment.
All of this happens to prepare you to either fight off the threat, or get out of the situation.
Stress can be caused either by a physical threat, or a mental or emotional threat. The thing is that your brain and body don’t distinguish between the two, so it reacts in the same way to both physical and emotionally stressful situations.
The thing about chronic stress is that it is near-constant. That means that your body and mind rarely get the chance to return to a normal functioning state. You are always on edge and stimulated without experiencing many moments of relaxation or downtime.
Chronic stress could lead to a number of health problems, including:
Depression and anxiety.
The most common causes of stress.
Each of us is unique in what we might find stressful, but there are a few common situations that cause most of us to feel stressed.
In the 1940s, Abraham Maslow spoke about a hierarchy of needs. This hierarchy is a pyramid that illustrates the levels of needs that every human strives to meet. The second level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is safety, and that includes being employed and being able to provide for yourself. When you find yourself in a situation where you are struggling to meet this fundamental need, you will likely experience large amounts of stress.
Grief and loss.
Experiencing loss and grief are massive stressors. A jumble of emotions accompanies painful events, and all of this increases the stress that you might experience. It is also possible that the loss is accompanied by a traumatic event that carries substantial amounts of stress.
Big life changes.
Significant changes in your life can be stressful, especially when it involves high levels of uncertainty. During these times, we are called to adapt, transform, and grow – and that can be difficult.
We often experience stress when we just have too much on our plates. Poor boundaries and the inability to say ‘no’ both contribute to over-engaging. Overcommitting leads to feelings of being overwhelmed and becoming burned out.
We can experience some of life’s greatest joys in the company of others. We could also experience some of our lowest lows. Our relationships with others can have a significant effect on our mental and emotional well-being. It can help us build resilience against stress, but it could also increase stress in our lives, especially when we experience conflict in our close relationships.
Work or school.
Like we said before, some stress is good. It gets you focused and helps you to get things done. This could make you very productive at work or in school. Too much stress in this environment could affect your health and happiness and even your relationships with those around you.
Your internal space.
It is possible that you are creating a lot of the stress that you are experiencing. You can contribute to heightened stress levels through:
Being pessimistic and always focusing on the bad.
Indulging in negative self-talk.
Holding yourself to unrealistic standards and expectations and accepting nothing less than perfect.
Being overly rigid and inflexible.
Dealing with stress.
You could just stick your head in the ground like an ostrich and pretend that nothing is happening. But that leaves you wholly exposed and vulnerable. On the other hand, there are things that you can incorporate into your life that can help you deal better with stressful situations.
Exercising releases, a cocktail of feel-good hormones and chemicals. These improve your mood and make you feel calm and relaxed. It is also a great way to release pent-up energy, tension, and emotions.
Fuel your body.
The food and drinks that you consume can affect your mood. Highly processed and sugary foods or food that contain lots of refined carbohydrates could make you feel good in the moment, but they could also worsen your symptoms of stress. Healthier options like fruit and veggies, good protein, and brain food like omega-3 fatty acids can all help you be healthier and better deal with stressful events.
Focus on relaxing.
Set time aside to engage in activities that inspire relaxation like meditation, muscle relaxation exercises, or breathing exercises. Do something that you enjoy just for the sake of it – without a goal or the need to achieve something.
Planning your day, week, or month creates structure and a sense of knowing what you can expect. By being clear about what needs to be done, you can prioritise and change things around easier when something unexpected comes up.
By being organised you create some form of structure and certainty in your life. Knowing what needs to be done can help you avoid massive panic moments like that time when you completely forgot about the presentation you had to give.
Take some time out to take care of yourself. Self-care could include anything that involves taking care of your body, mind, or soul. Engage in something that you enjoy, and that makes you feel relaxed. There isn’t enough said about how relaxing and restoring a guilt-free nap can be!
Let out your feelings or emotions.
Find healthy ways to release your feelings or emotions. For some people, this could be through meditation. Others find catharsis in letting out a big, loud scream. Boxing or a physical sport could also be useful in getting rid of what is bothering you.
Avoid stressors, if possible.
Sometimes specific things make us feel more stressed. It is ok to avoid these things as long as you don’t neglect your responsibilities. It is also ok to avoid people that cause you to become stressed out. It is all about setting healthy boundaries and taking care of yourself and your emotional and physical well-being.
Continued stress could lead to various health and mental health problems. Getting professional help can help you learn tools to deal with stress in a healthier way.
Phone a friend.
To vent. To cry. To laugh. To sit in mutual silence. Sometimes merely knowing that someone is on the other end and that you don’t have to carry everything by yourself is all you need.
Have an accountability buddy or give yourself five or ten minutes just to let it all out. Your friend doesn’t need to have the solutions to your problems, sometimes just talking through things with someone else helps you see things more clearly.
Take life by the nasties.
Yes, I went there… You have so much more power in your life and over your experiences than you realise. You get to choose whether you will remain in a cycle of victim mentality and hopelessness, or whether you will face stressful situations head-on.
Get real about what is causing you stress – really dig deep and get into the messiness of it all. Once you know what is causing you stress, you can start to respond from a place of empowerment. Get help. Make a plan. Set some goals. Do what you need to do to either cope better with your situation, or get away from it.
It all starts with one step… and then the next… and then the next.
Also… let go of control.
Realise that you cannot control everything and everyone. All you can control is yourself, your thoughts and emotions, and how you respond to things. Learn to recognise when things are out of your control – it could be more than you realise – and keep in your own lane. Letting go of things that are not your responsibility is hugely empowering and freeing.
Sometimes stress can help us to thrive; other times, it could make us feel overwhelmed and hopeless. In those times, remember that you have so much more power than you realise. Take care of yourself and reach out to people you trust to help you through these moments.