Stress, we all feel it and in today’s society it is sometimes a badge of honour to be worn proudly on our chest. Never mind that your mental, physical and emotional health will suffer greatly from prolonged stress. Never mind that your relationships will suffer. If you are stressed and running yourself into the ground, then you are working hard and eventually all of this grinding will pay off.
But will it really?
A few weeks ago, I found myself very overwhelmed with workload and feeling exhausted, emotional and physically run down. I kept plodding along through each day until I admitted to myself that I was feeling very stressed and that I was creating more stress of my apparent mounting workload. I am always working on and creating new things but with a lot of balls in the air my thriving turned to striving and stress overload.
We have all been there, when the work piles up and you tell yourself that if I can just get through it all, then I will be able to relax and release some of the tension that is building. In just getting through the work I was skipping yoga, cancelling a work out or stay up late and jeopardising my rest. I started letting the need to, should do, have to, must do thoughts take over and determine my day. We create and maintain these terms and conditions we live our life by but they only restrict us further in a never-ending cycle of overwhelm – stress – discontentment – frustration – more stress.
We prioritise ‘work’ over the other important things in our lives, the things we actually value more. If we were to reflect honestly about all the areas of our life, work might be down the list of priorities after our health, family and friends. Then why does it so often jump to the top of the list and take over? Maybe because so much of our time is spent in work or that we want to prove ourselves and our ability. Either way, there is only so much our bodies can take without this ‘grinding’ taking serious effect on our health and lives as a whole.
Maybe your stress is not work related, maybe it is tension and friction within a relationship that is causing you great stress. Maybe it is the overload of work and home life that individually don’t pose too much stress but combined has you feeling that you could fall over board at the next wave. Whatever the origin of your stress is, you can be sure it is having serious effects on your body.
So, what does happen when our body is stressed?
When we are stressed our mind is perceiving a threat from something in our environment and our mind kicks into gear to get ready to fight or flee, an instinctual response we very much need. Hormones, cortisol and epinephrine (Adrenalin) are released, our heart rate and blood pressure increase so that our muscles have all then energy needed to get us to safety quickly. The body even moves blood away from the digestive tract because at this moment, digestion is not a priority. Now if it was a tiger or a bear you were threatened by, your body’s response would have helped you to reach safety, where you would rest for a while to help regulate your breath and heart rate and everything else again.
However, we are not running from bears or tigers anymore and instead of acute cases of stress where we would have time to rest and recover afterwards we are now faced with a constant plethora of stresses in our lives. The brain doesn’t distinguish between a tiger or a traffic jam and so we can go days, weeks, months and years in this constant state of stress. We rush and stress about getting to work, dropping the kids off and crawling through traffic in our cars or on public transport. We stress in work about the workload, relationships with our colleagues or about how work is affecting our home life. We stress about what to wear, what we should look like and how we should be seen by our loved ones, peers and society. We stress about home life, bills, the house and relationships all the while trying to make time for our own wants and needs.
This constant state of stress has huge implications on our overall health and well-being. Constant stress can mean constantly high blood pressure, reduced brain function, greater appetite to sustain the energy needed in this alerted state, increased inflammation around the body and lower immune function to name but a few.
The human body is constantly trying to restore balance in a number of internal mechanisms through a process known as homeostasis. So, we know that the body can deal with stress through complex and intricate systems. However, everything that draws the body away from this equilibrium or balance is stress. And so, the stress tipping the scales in the wrong direction is also causing illness or disease in the body. I think it is time to stop using the excuse that our bodies are able for stress or that there is such a thing as ‘good stress’ (this is true but is not an excuse for your health and well-being to suffer the consequences). I think it is time for us to take responsibility for our health and well-being and learn tools to enable us to live a happy, healthy, long and peaceful life.
Of course, there are always going to be stresses in our lives, but it is how we deal with them that will determine their effect on our well-being and our lives as a whole. Learning tools and techniques that we can use everyday will enable us to perform better in the short term and stay healthy in the long term.
You can choose to struggle to keep your head above the crashing waves or you can choose to navigate the stresses in your life from the boat, where you can see what is coming and commit to surfing the wave instead of wiping out beneath it.
Top 5 tips to deal with stress in your life.
- Notice your triggers. When you know what your triggers are, then you can catch your stress before it takes over. For me I feel the tension physically in my jaw and my sleep is disrupted, these are my triggers to know I have to pause, rest and reset.
- Exercise – The benefits or exercise have been long documented and especially so in relation to stress. You can change your emotional state straight away by changing your physiology – moving your body. Get moving, dance around the kitchen, do some jumping jacks attend a class, go for a walk (The Importance of Grounding).
- Meditation – The benefits of a daily meditation practice have also been proven again and again. Not only will a daily meditation practice help to calm and centre the mind within your busy or stressful day, it will also enable you to deepen your awareness of the ‘stresses’ in your life as experiences that are separate to you. Meditation will help you see that often you can do nothing about the external events and people in our environment, however you can change your reaction to them. Start off small with 5/10 minutes daily or follow an app if you require more guidance (Headspace / Insight Timer).
- Use your breath – Your breath is your anchor, something that is always with you and something that we naturally use when we are hurt, scared or are in pain. Mothers in labour use their breath to birth a baby so you can use your breath to deal with whatever life throws at you. Taking time throughout your day to come back to your breath, just for a minute or two will have a huge impact on your stress levels, focus, concentration, effectiveness and overall mood.
- Sleep – With our busy and jam-packed lives we need adequate rest and sleep to allow our body to recuperate at the end of the day. Your body needs time to rest, repair, replenish, rejuvenate, reset and allow the immune system to do its job. Quality is as important as quantity and so establishing a good night time routine can help to switch off and get to sleep. That means less hours of TV and phone time before bed and more relaxing ways to calm the brain after a busy day – a bath, a book or meditation.
As always if you enjoyed this post please share it with anyone you think may benefit from it.
If you want to learn more about how to deal with stress keep an eye out on my social media accounts as I will be sharing a free guide to dealing with stress which will delve deeper into the tips outlines above in the next week.