22 Apr Coping with stress
Stress has recently received a huge amount of the limelight in terms of its prevalence and its causes being attributed to longer working days, political issues and home life. With all the scaremongering in the media regarding the negative impacts of stress it is important to remember that stress is natural and it’s not something you should necessarily stress about.
At its root, stress is a survival mechanic, a warning sign that something negative could potentially happen. Whilst this was an effective tool for our ancestors it has seen its usefulness to us degrade as we made our way up the food chain. Rather than being a tool for survival it is now generally seen as causing us more health detriments than positives and this is due to the evolutionary nature of stress, it was originally meant as a short term warning system that was triggered upon the sight of danger but as we have evolved the dangers we face are no longer short term (from predators) but are now long term from issues such as debt which hang over us with no obvious escape.
Anything that elicits a negative perception from us can cause stress and it is this prolonged stress that is responsible for the health deficits we associate with stress.
The key is understanding that whilst our evolutionary path failed to remove this faulty mechanic from our species, we as intelligent beings can utilise coping techniques and mechanisms to offset stress and its ever-expanding list of health deficits.
Whilst in the short-term stress is perfectly normal, the issue arises when we are in a prolonged state of stress as this will subject our bodies to excessive exposure to cortisol. Cortisol is great in small doses, it promotes healing and higher reactivity through the release of sugar into the blood stream. However, these positives are only short lived as our body hasn’t evolved to be in a constant state of rapid alertness and this results in those scary health deficits such as lower immune system, blood pressure, heart disease and depression.
The first step is to recognise when you are experiencing stress, as we are all individuals, we all handle stress in our own ways (yet another evolutionary quirk of ours), for example some of us might not even notice we are experiencing stress. Whilst this is the case, stress is normally recognisable through physiological indicators such as: sweating, heart rate increases, quickening of breathing and tensing of muscles. If you have failed to notice the physiological factors, chances are you’ll recognise the mental, behavioural and emotional indicators of stress. This includes feelings of being overwhelmed, being anxious, stoops in self-esteem, easy to anger/snappy, lack of concentration, difficulty in decision making, worrying, racing thoughts, headaches, dizziness, lack of sleep, changes to the amount you eat. So basically, stress causes your entire body a lot of issues which is why it’s so important that we tackle it head on.
If you know you’re stressed here’s what can you do about it:
Now bear in mind that perhaps only one of the following may work for you whereas they all may work for someone else (there’s that evolutionary quirk of individuality again), the important thing is to try them and find out what works for you.
This concept focusses on you immersing yourself in the present and blocking out negativities such as stress, using techniques such as breath focus and mindful activities.
If you give all of your attention to something like your breathing it gives your mind and body a chance to recover as the stress is blocked out (sounds weird but scientists give it a thumbs up).
It is not ‘weak’ to let others know that you’re having a bad time, ask for help or simply an ear to hear you out, you’ll be surprised at the lengths people go to for their fellow man if given the chance.
Family time is always recommended, spending time with loved ones lowers stress and encourages the release of feel good hormones such as oxytocin.
Friends are another source of support whether you go to them for a chat or a break from life you’ll find you generally feel better after.
Give yourself time
Holidays and short break to recuperate allow you to switch off from the stresses of life.
Find a new hobby or allow more time to immerse yourself in existing interests, this will remind you of what you value and allows you to concentrate on something that doesn’t cause stress (unless you’re one of those adrenaline junkies of course).
Exercise regularly (get those endorphins pumping), not only for your body but your mind, exercise similar to hobbies requires concentration and you can’t stress about work if you’re focussing on breaking your personal bests.
Eat healthily, if your body is happy it is better prepared to handle stress.
Sleep, but not too much. Sleep gives your mind and body the chance to shut off and repair.
Time management techniques
This is more about regaining control of your work load than actually planning it.
Lack of control is linked heavily to stress, if you feel like you have control over a situation you will be less likely to stress over it.
As I said many of these might not work for you; that’s why I included so many. Find what works for you and regain control over stress. Whilst we can’t eliminate stress, we can cope with it and find ways to alleviate its impact, just remember – you’re only human!