This week is stress awareness week with today being stress awareness day. We all experience some level of stress in our day to day lives, sometimes this stress can become overwhelming and start to interfere with our mental health. So what is stress and how can we help ourselves deal with it?
Stress is how our body responds to pressures, change and even uncertainty in our lives. It gets a bad rap I think. Stress is a normal and natural reaction to events our brains see as a threat of some kind. A threat is detected by the primitive brain and the flight fight or freeze response is triggered, releasing hormones that give us feelings like, shortness of breath, tense muscles, anxiety, sleeplessness etc. it is the brains way of putting us on alert and motivating us to survive, to push through difficult situations. The problem comes when we experience overwhelming stress or stress occurs frequently with little or no respite or it lasts for a long time. When this happens, the body is flooded with the stress hormones constantly, there is always that horrible feeling of tension, headache, worry etc. The brain becomes used to responding in this way, so stress becomes its default setting, its go to. The more stress we feel the more anxious we become. Stress is the response to the situation, anxiety is the reaction to that stress, and so we can be caught in what seems like an endless cycle of stress and anxiety.
Enough doom and gloom though, just because stress originates from an unconscious process in our brains doesn’t mean that we can’t do something about it, that we can’t help ourselves to feel better, we very much can! I think some of the stress we feel comes from the stories we tell ourselves about how we are feeling. I know that when I am stressed, I start to overthink everything, that I get stuck in a perpetual cycle of negativity and predicting future scenarios in a negative way. To overcome this, I have started to try and flip my thinking, to look for the positives in a situation and to find the evidence for and against my thoughts. I tell myself I don’t know the future so how can I predict what will and won’t happen? Why waste my energy getting worked up about something that may not even happen? I have found mindfulness helps me immensely with this, what will work for you? Often it is about finding your own individual way of coping healthily with it, what works for one doesn’t always work for another. Some tried and tested ways include;
- Talking, either to friends, family or a professional. Talking things through can really help to gain a different perspective on things and shed new light on old situations.
- Keep a positive attitude when possible, look at things from different angles, is it really as bad as it seems?
- Be assertive not, assert your feelings, opinions, or beliefs instead of becoming angry, defensive, or passive.
- Have a go at different relaxation techniques; try meditation, yoga, or tai-chi. (There are some really good YouTube videos on all of these)
- Accept that there are events that you cannot control. Acceptance doesn’t mean liking, its about saying it is what it is.
- Exercise regularly, whatever exercise is for you, from yoga, going to the gym, going for a run walking for 20 minutes a day, do what works for you. Your body can fight stress so much better when it is fit.
- Eat healthy, well-balanced meals. Though allow yourself a treat once in a while! (AnxietyUK have a booklet for £2.99 on foods than can boost and stabilise mood https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/products/anxiety-condition/stress/nutrition-and-anxiety-a-self-help-guide-3/)
- Decide on your limits, what are you willing to and can you realistically do? Learn the power of saying no to requests that would create more stress for you.
- Make time for hobbies and interests. Learn something new maybe?
- Go to bed at a regular time each night, one that isn’t too late. Having enough rest and sleep helps your mind and body to recover from stressful events.
- Don't rely on alcohol, drugs, or compulsive behaviours to reduce stress, find healthy ways of coping that work for you (such as the ones mentioned here)
- Make connections with friends and family, spend time with those you love.
There are so many different ways of coping with stress, go out there and find your own way that works for you. Just remember that the aim isn’t to completely get rid of stress, stress will always happen in life, it’s about finding ways to cope with it when it happens and to make sure it doesn’t become overwhelming and constant.