From time to time, we all experience stress at different levels.
A certain amount of stress is actually beneficial as it causes us to move forward and get things done. But over time, too much stress can cause mental, emotional and physical “wear and tear” that can take its toll unless it is effectively managed.
The big problem today, is not only do we have the fast pace of modern day life to juggle - family, personal and work life commitments - but we are also experiencing abrupt changes to our way of life i.e. the way we interact and do business, connect with one another and the incessant negative messages in the media. All of these factors have created an undercurrent of uncertainty that is not conducive to quality mental and emotional wellbeing.
So if you or someone you know, is experiencing high levels of stress that just won't go away, the question is, how can this stress be managed without relying on synthetic medicines that can lead to harmful addictions?
Read on to discover how you can identify the main sources of stress, together with how you can consciously take back control by making simple changes to your perspective and daily routine, to help break these stressful patterns.
Two Main Types of Stress
Firstly, let's identify the two main types of stress that exist:
The term "Eustress" was coined by endocrinologist Hans Selye, consisting of the Greek prefix eu- meaning "good", and stress, meaning "good stress". In other words, Eustress is positive form of stress.
Remember, a small amount of stress can be the spark that compels us to take action in our daily personal and work life routine.
We all thrive under a certain level of stress to get things done, reach project deadlines and to take on personal challenges - all of which enrich our lives in some way.
Distress on the other hand, is stress with a negative influence, creating feelings of distrust, rejection, anger and depression.
This type of stress often leads to discomforts and ailments such as migraines, upset stomach, rashes, insomnia, ulcers and over time; high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
Interestingly, having no stress at all can be a source of depression for some people, because it can lead to boredom or a lack of sense of purpose. This is common in people who have spent their entire lives working or dedicated to their business or career, only to reach retirement age and then lose a part of their identity when they stop working.
So the point really is, that managing stress is about finding a happy medium between the positive and negative aspects of stress so that it doesn't cause damage to your health and wellbeing.
How do I get rid of stress?
There are a number of simple things you can do to manage harmful stress without resorting to drugs or other addictive means. These management techniques usually are about being conscious of the stress triggers and then being able to disrupt the destructive pattern before it takes hold of you.
Some helpful stress pattern disrupters include:
- Change your environment temporarily and even long term, depending on the extent and regularity of the problem
- Change your mood with physical exercise, getting out into nature, cooking a wholesome meal
- Finding a different source of stimulus - to put a smile on your face, to spark a more inspiring thought pattern, or shift your perspective to what's right (rather than what's wrong)
- Channel your energy to gratitude - regardless of what the source of stress may be, one of the most powerful 'mental state-changers' is to spend a few minutes deep breathing and practicing gratitude for all that is good in your world.
Remember, the ultimate goal is not to eliminate stress entirely, but to learn how to manage it more effectively, so that it doesn't control you.
How can I tell what is optimal stress for me?
We all are individuals with unique requirements.
What is distressing to someone else, may be water off a ducks back for you. Everyone is likely to differ in their physiological and psychological responses to different types of stimulus in terms of stress classification.
Also, our personal stress thresholds and the amount we're able to tolerate, changes with age. However, pent up stress that is never relieved or addressed, can eventually cause you to "hit the wall" or "break down", so managing stress over time is a vital "self care" principle that is worth your attention.
How can I manage stress better?
Even when you identify unrelieved stress and become aware of its effect on your life, nothing changes unless you choose to do something about it.
Just as there are many sources of stress, there are also many ways to manage it, including changing the source of stress and/or changing your reaction to it.
Become aware of your stress triggers and your emotional and physical reactions to these triggers
- Notice your distress. Don’t ignore it but figure out if it's real or a made up story.
- Determine what events distress you. What are you telling yourself about the meaning of these events?
- Determine how your body responds to the stress. Do you become nervous, anxious or physically upset? If so, in what specific ways?
Recognise what you can change
- Can you change your stressors by avoiding or eliminating them completely?
- Can you reduce their intensity or manage them over a period of time instead of on a daily or weekly basis?
- Can you shorten your exposure to stress take a break or leave the physical premises?
- Can you devote the time and energy necessary to making a change? Things such as goal setting, time management techniques, and delayed gratification strategies may be helpful here.
Reduce the intensity of your emotional reactions to stress
- The stress reaction is triggered by your perception of danger; including physical danger and/or emotional danger. Are you viewing your stressors in exaggerated terms and/or taking a difficult situation and making it a disaster?
- Are you expecting to please everyone?
- Are you overreacting and viewing things as absolutely critical and urgent?
- Do you feel you must always prevail in every situation?
- Work at adopting more moderate views. Try to see the stress as something you can cope with rather than something that overpowers you
- Try to temper your excess emotions. Put the situation in perspective. Do not labour on the negative aspects and the “what if’s.”
Learn to moderate your physical reactions to stress
- Slow, deep breathing will bring your heart rate and respiration back to normal
- Relaxation techniques can reduce muscle tension. You can gain voluntary control over such things as muscle tension, heart rate, and blood pressure
- Learning to moderate these reactions on your own is a preferable long-term solution.
Build your physical reserves
- Exercise for cardiovascular fitness three to four times a week. Moderate, prolonged rhythmic exercise is best, such as walking, swimming, cycling or jogging
- Eat well balanced, nutritious meals
- Eat for a healthy gut - plenty of fermented foods, fresh vegetables and a colon cleanse periodically
- Avoid nicotine
- Avoid antibiotics if possible as will disrupt the gut microbiome
- Mix leisure with work. Take breaks and get away when you can.
- Get 6-8 hours sleep per night. Be as consistent with your sleep schedule as possible.
Maintain your emotional reserves
- Develop some mutually supportive friendships/relationships
- Pursue realistic goals which are meaningful to you, rather than goals others have for you that you do not share
- Expect some frustrations, failures and sorrows
- Always be kind and gentle with yourself – be a friend to yourself.
The Main Take Away
A certain amount of stress is beneficial to progress and for kicking life's goals, but excessive amounts of stress over the long term can take you out.
The secret to managing stress is to practice a self care and self aware approach, where you become more conscious of the triggers that cause you stress, so that you can better manage your response to these triggers.
Now more than ever, a proactive approach is needed for managing stress because of the plethora of harmful stimulus in our environment. These toxic triggers can easily derail us from continuing to be the best and brightest versions of ourselves if we don't step in.
Sleep well, eat well, look for the positives in every situation and realise that you are stronger than any situation you are faced with. The key is to take charge of your mind and your emotions to take back control.
Tolman Self Care.