Stress affects us all and regardless of how chilled out you think you might be, doing your yoga and your meditation and listening to the calming sounds of the sea as you float around in your daily bubble, I’m willing to put money on all of you reading this post having experienced some form of stress at some point in your lives.
In fact a recent study of 2,000 adults in the UK revealed that 85% of them experienced stress and it was mainly down to money, work and health issues. However stress can come in many shapes and sizes, it’s certainly not a one fits all condition and so it’s important to recognise what your own personal triggers are and learn coping mechanisms to deal with it.
April is Stress Awareness Month and yes I know there’s loads of these ‘Awareness Months’ floating around, but because stress affects us all I’ve put together a guide to help break down the stigma and do my own little bit to help raise awareness.
Fight or Flight
Before we can start to tackle how to deal with stress, lets take a look at what it actually is and how it affects both the body and the mind.
In the most basic of terms, stress is that overwhelming feeling that things have got too much, and the result is that our minds and/or our bodies are no longer able to deal with the pressures that are being placed upon them. In actual fact, a certain level of stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing, after all it’s the body’s warning system that we are under threat and were we to listen to our body correctly it works as a perfect distress signal for us to act upon. Unfortunately, there aren’t many of us that are so in tune with our bodies, strong and resilient enough, and aren’t equipped with the right tools to handle it and that’s when everything spirals out of our control. You may have heard of the term ‘fight or flight’ and this relates to how we handle stress – you are either someone who stays and fights back or you freak out and fly away from it.
Which one are you?
Physically, when you’re under stress you may start to notice that your heart rate speeds up, and therefore your blood pressure rises, your breathing become faster to the point that you may feel breathless, your muscles may tense up, you may start to sweat, or you may become super alert to everything as your senses heighten and you feel as though you have to be on guard. These symptoms are in response to your nervous system releasing a blast of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which can sometimes work in our favour – think about how you might feel at the start of a race, or when you’re gearing up to do a skydive, or even when you’re walking down the aisle to get married. All moments when of course you’re going to feel nervous, anxious, stressed, but it’s those stress hormones that push you to achieve what you need to achieve.
In normal, healthy situations once a threat passes these physical effects will stop. However, if the root of your stress continues and therefore so too do these symptoms that’s when you’ve got a problem and that’s when you need to think about ways in which you can tackle the problem head on.
Pressures at work, relationship worries, money troubles… the list of the causes of stress is literally endless. Basically, anything that makes someone feel as if they aren’t in control, as if they are drowning, no longer able to cope, can be classed as a stress trigger. And arguably, it’s not so much the cause of the stress, but more how the person deals with stress – we will look at coping mechanisms a little further down.
Getting out of a stress rut can be incredibly difficult, as it starts to affect things like your sleep – you may struggle to get to sleep because your mind is working overtime and unable to rest, or your diet – you may seek comfort in food and either eat more or reach for the unhealthy ‘junk’ options. You may turn to quick fixes like alcohol or smoking to help ease your worries, and whilst the odd drink here or there with friends or social vaping when you’re on a night out isn’t going to do you any harm, in the long run it’s not going to solve your problems and is only serving to mask the real problems that remain underneath.
Some people have the resilience to cope with high levels of stress whereas others start to show cracks at the mere hint of a threat. First and foremost you must establish where your stress tolerance level lies and once you’ve got that figured out you can begin to take action to ensure you don’t reach that level in future.
I’m a strong believer in keeping a journal to jot down all manner of things, from what I’ve eaten, how I’m feeling, what exercise I’ve done etc. and I know to some it might sound a little over controlling and almost verging on OCD, but it helps me keep track and feel as if I am at least in some way in tune with my body and mind. In doing so, I am able to recognise quite clearly what it is that might be causing me stress at any given time and although it won’t necessarily give me a solution to the problem, it does at least help me put things into perspective, encourages me to talk to others, alerts me to the fact I need some time out, and purely the act of writing stuff down is one of the best kind of therapies I could recommend.
I’m not saying any of these next few coping mechanisms will work for you, everyone is different after all and you need to find what works for you, but hopefully there may be some here that work or if nothing else will give you the inspiration and motivation to discover your own stress reliever.
Exercise Those Demons
Keeping active doesn’t just benefit the body, it’s also great at relieving mental stress – clearing away the cobwebs so to speak. If I’m having a particularly stressful day, there’s nothing a good run won’t sort out! If the thought of working up a sweat sends shudders down your spine however, don’t worry, as even a gentle stroll in the fresh air will help. If nothing else it allows you time out, to work things through in your head, put things in perspective and calm everything down.
Eat Your Greens
Eat well and you’ll feel well, it’s as simple as that. You may crave sugar, caffeine, heavy white carbs, fatty foods and alcohol, but none of these things are going to help. They simply provide quick feel good fixes, but what goes up must come down… and down you’ll come with a big bump feeling a whole heap worse. Try to include as much fruit and veg in your diet as possible and balance it out with protein, slow release carbs and good fats. Taking the time to prepare your food is not only the healthier option, but it also demonstrates a level of self care – that you care about what you put into your body, and trust me your body and how you feel will certainly thank you for it.
Give And You Shall Receive
If you already feel as though there aren’t enough hours in the day, then this isn’t going to be for you. However, if you do have a bit of time to spare then the answer to your stress problems could lie in helping others through volunteer or community work. The act of helping others makes us feel good about ourselves and essentially gives us purpose and that does wonders for our mental health.
Make Time For You
As well as helping others, there’s one person that needs the most help and that’s YOU! You are important and it’s about time you started spending a bit more time with yourself, so factor in some ‘me’ time every single day. It doesn’t need to be much; even just an uninterrupted break with a cuppa and a magazine will help you reclaim some of you back.
And whilst time with yourself is beneficial, it’s important to strike a balance between alone time and time spent with others, as too much of either isn’t good.
Connect With Real People
Spending time with people who care about you, who you know you can rely on to be a good pair of ears, to help out when needed and who you can fully relax around and be yourself is the best medicine a person can get. Everyone needs a support team and as they say – a problem shared is a problem halved.
Tackle the Problem Head On
Problems don’t go away by themselves and sometimes you just need to tackle things head on. One way in which you can help build up your resilience and strength to deal with this is by taking on a new challenge, such as trying a new sport or even a new hobby. This will again improve feelings of self worth, but will also build confidence and this is tantamount to improving your resilience.
Ask For Help
Never, EVER be afraid to ask for help – it does not make you weak, it does not mean you’ve failed… in fact it’s the complete opposite. No one is Superman, so don’t try to be. If you’ve got paperwork piling up at the office – ask if your colleagues could help you out, if the dirty dishes are stacking up at home – get the rest of the household to shift their bums for a change. The act of taking control of a situation is incredibly empowering and if the solution is to enlist the help of others, then that is what you need to do. Remember – teamwork makes the dream work!
Chronic stress can affect nearly every system in the body and it’s up to you and you alone to do something about it. So make those changes today and take control of your stress before it takes control of you.
How Do You Deal With Stress?
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