How to take charge of stress
We need enough of it to keep getting out of bed every morning, and not too much of it that we explode or get sick.
So how do we balance this thing called stress that seems to be becoming a bigger part of our lives?
Physiologically, the stress response is the fight or flight system which involves increased heart rate and breathing rate, a burst of adrenalin and energy, and stress hormones like cortisol start pumping through your bloodstream, preparing your body to face a threat.
If the threat is, “A bus is about to hit me I better jump out of the way,” then this is helpful. If we had to cognitively consider how far the bus was from us or how quickly we would have to move, then BANG, it would be too late.
On the other hand, if the threat is, “I’m late for work” or thoughts like “I'm so sick of arguing with my spouse” are on repeat in our heads, then this can be extremely damaging.
When cortisol is elevated for too long or too frequently it disturbs all the hormonal systems of the body.
There’s a lot of talk around Good Stress vs Bad Stress and the right amount of stress. For example, ‘good’ stress can help motivate you to reach your goals, and can support a top performance as you step up to deliver a presentation, and it can boost memory. Moderate levels of stress have been linked to better recovery times after surgery.
As human beings we weren't designed to experience stress over long periods of time. It was supposed to be an instant burst of energy so you had enough brain and muscle power to solve your challenge, which in primitive times would have gotten you away form that large predator you just spotted. In modern times, stress tends to be more prolonged, and that's when you can start to see some of the negative effects on physical emotional and mental health.
If you are experiencing unhelpful or unhealthy prolonged stress then you need to take charge of this and there is no better time to start than now.
So how can we take charge of Stress? Here are 5 strategies you can start applying today.
One of the best ways to counter stress is to exercise, as it will metabolise the cortisol in your system and remove it.
If you can go to the gym, go kickboxing, go for a run, or even just go for a walk - any kind of muscle activity will metabolise the cortisol. The more strenuous the better for stress to leave pronto.
Of course we can’t automatically go for a run or play a game of squash when we experience stress as this could be at work or in a controlled situation.
So the next best thing is to move our bodies in any way we can. This could just be to get up if sitting or sit if standing or walk to the bathroom or stretch. The more movement the better.
When you take long, deep breaths, oxygen quietens down the effects of cortisol. You might notice if you watch sport that just before the person is about to take that final all-important shot, the last thing they do is take a huge deep breath. This is an evolutionary system designed to quieten down that stress response so you can do whatever you need to do.
Then after exercise or deep breathing you can access your higher thinking skills and think logically about whatever challenge is causing the stress and what you are going to do about it. There are tonnes of breathing techniques can you try - Andrew Weil's 4-7-8 breathing is a wonderful technique to try.
3. WRITE it down.
A simple and effective strategy which can really help us to calm ourselves and organise our thinking is to write things down.
You can write a list to keep track of things on our to do list, or record your voice into your phone if you don’t have a pen, or you can set yourself online reminders - there are many ways to organise your thinking into a numbered list of things to focus on. And when you look at the list you can then begin to break that elephant down into bite sized chunks and you can decide which order you are going to eat it in.
It can also help to identify or organise our thoughts and emotions when we write things down or journal, and of course it's well proven how a gratitude journal can boost our feelings of fulfillment in life long term.
4. Speak KINDLY to yourself
We are all having an internal dialogue with ourselves all the time, and when you begin to start noticing how you speak to yourself, you can start to consider if your internal dialogue is serving and supporting or sabotaging you.
Is your self-talk reducing your stress, or adding to it?
Would you speak to your best friend like that?
5. Take ACTION.
When we are in a high level of stress we can tend to freeze and then procrastinate, which is a great way of achieving nothing and allows the stress to manifest even more.
Work out which of the items on the list deserves your first attention and then take action on ONE THING. Just one step in any direction will move you from stress to action and when you are acting you are moving and motion creates positive emotions.
Consider these tips for when you experience those events that usually trigger your stress and these work as well for prevention as they do for treatment.
Find what works for you, and practice it regularly.
Remember you are driving the bus of your own mind, and you have everything you need within you to manage your stress.
'Our greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.' -William James
Until next time,
The PLS Team