The Ultimate Guide From Stress to Unwind
13th November, 2020
There cannot be a stressful crisis next week. My schedules are already full! – Henry Kissinger
Do you feel like this is not just a week, but every day of your life? Stress!
So many people are currently feeling like they’re sailing through turbulent seas, on constant watch and anxiously awaiting the unknown. We’re all experiencing the same thing!
2020, has been a year filled with uncertainty, confusion, fear, change and so many unexpected emotions in comparison to other historical events such as famine, world wars and the Spanish Flu that killed 20-50 million people that lasted 2 years.
Stress is a natural part of life, however, this year it has been experienced on a global scale. Reminding us that we all respond and cope with to stress in different ways.
In this guide we will look at:
- What is stress?
- The effects of stress and how it can affect your body, mind and psyche and how do we deal with it?
- What techniques can we use to help us cope with stress or maybe it’s best to just go with the flow?
What is stress?
Stress is a biological and psychological reaction that occurs in the body in response to a trigger. Stress can have both positive or negative effects on the body. A trigger can be anything from receiving sad news, being involved in an accident, relationship conflict, running late for an appointment, financial stress, loss of a job, or the opposite, a happy event, like good news, a wedding, a lotto win or sale of a house.
Different circumstances can trigger different responses to stress, the key thing is, how you choose to respond to the circumstance will determine the severity or effect of your stress response.
A negative stress response can start from an idea, an emotion or a perception we may have about an event which may be based on past experiences. For example, swimming is an enjoyable fun experience for many, however some may find swimming scary or stressful because they may not know how to swim, have fear of the water or perhaps they had a negative past experience around water.
Remember, we are all different and perceive and experience the world differently. What one person perceives as stressful, may not be such an issue for another.
How our body is changing and adapting to stress
Our body goes through biochemical changes to cope with stress and to moderate its response. The body will release hormones to help you physically adapt. Neurotransmitters, such as cortisol and adrenaline are hormones that race through the body to areas and organs such as the lungs, heart and muscles in response to the “fight or flight” response. Get ready to fight or run!
Adrenaline and cortisol can flood the body extremely fast and you can feel the effect of the rush in as little as two minutes.
Did you know the body does not know the difference between current or past stress? So, if you think about a stressful past event, your body will respond as if it’s happening today, right now. Our memories and thoughts can trigger our body into a stress response, by simply thinking about it!
The body will often perceive a stressful incident to be short lived or a temporary experience. During the fight or flight response, our adrenaline and cortisol levels rise quickly to prepare the body for a response. The adrenaline surge only lasts for up to one hour, numbing pain receptors in the body, in anticipation of running away from danger and preventing feeling the pain from a potential injury while fleeing or fighting.
However, in today’s current climate, stress is not a short lived experience, as is naturally intended. It is an ongoing persistent addition to life. Often termed, chronic stress, it is felt by many and its biological consequences can have a negative impact on our health in the long run. Chronic stress compromises the body’s natural ability to produce those key hormones involved in the stress response. Over time, your body’s attempt to keep you in a state of balance, begins to decline and it may start to produce different symptoms to help your body adapt to the ongoing exposure to stressful events. From a mindful perspective, this is simply your body’s way of bringing your attention to yourself.
Some of the additional symptoms you may start to experience are: restless sleep, inability to fall asleep, headaches or daily physical pain in areas throughout the body. A classic scenario may be the return of old injuries or symptoms.
We may be able to grapple with the idea of physical stress in our body, but we cannot completely understand the consequences of stress without acknowledging the psyche, which can also be called the spirit or the soul.
Now, do not lose faith and think this is all a bit “airy fairy”, the impact that stress has on our mind and spirit has been extensively studied for decades. We may disregard this aspect of our health and think it’s not important, but in many cases, the effect of stress on our psyche can be harder to cope with, than physical stress.
This type of stress can be intangible and may not be physically seen, but it is reflected in our emotional state.
Whilst we have discussed our stress hormones kicking in, in response to stress, these hormones also affect our nervous system and brain chemicals. In short, our stress hormones directly affect our sympathetic nervous system to help ramp things up during fight or flight, and also affect the parasympathetic nervous system, when trying to restore balance in the body and mind, whilst restoring a state of calm.
However, when this emotional imbalance does not relinquish and resolve, our psyche or soul can potentially feel lost. You may start to feel anxious, nervous, low in mood, sadness, grief, inconsolable, feel constant worry or racing thoughts or simply just lost and feel an emptiness that you can’t explain.
These feelings may go hand in hand with the physical signs of stress. But our soul and emotions need to be cared for and acknowledged just like our physical body does.
Just remember, life is never a stable constant journey, it is always changing and our body and mind are always trying to make our life a smooth and easy ride.
The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another – William James
Why do people get stressed?
Stress can affect everyone differently and as we discussed in part 1, what may affect one person may not necessarily affect another. We accept and acknowledge that “stress” is inevitable and part of life, but also remember there are positive and negative forms of stress.
1. Control Less
Two things that determine how we are affected by stress, are our reactions and responses. Some people may have a greater reaction or response to a situation than others. Many situations in life are often beyond our control, and we need to effectively determine what we can and cannot control in life, in order to keep our body’s natural stress response healthy. A forced effort to try to “keep in control” can increase your response to any stressful event or incident. Accept and acknowledge that some decisions and events are often not in your control and don’t require you to make a choice! This does not mean that you relent, give in or become complacent, it can be an opportunity for you to focus on how you can make a positive impact.
Let’s look at the most recent event affecting us all. The current COVID 19 pandemic, whilst you may not be able to make a global impact, you can take action in your immediate environment and with your close family and friends.
Some things you can do to make your situation better:
Reach out: Check on family and friends via phone or email, make a meal and leave it at their door, make sure you are eating well and practicing government guidelines, relevant to your state when you are out and about.
Don’t think about how bad things are or that we are in a dire situation, take action and think about ways you can make your or someone else’s day a little better.
Present moment - Live in the moment, do not contemplate the “what if” or “could be” or “what about the future”.
These anticipated thought patterns can only elevate your stress, over an event or scenario that may never happen! Focus on the now and present moment. Take a minute, an hour or one day at a time. In this way, you will feel calmer and feel a sense of self-control.
You may cringe at the thought of someone mentioning self-care or putting your own needs first. You may be used to putting your needs to the side and putting the needs of others first. However, this is an opportunity to put yourself first, especially when you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious or stressed.
You have to ask yourself, “How can I care for others, when I cannot care for myself?”
When people demand your attention and time, and you’re feeling overwhelmed, you won’t be able to give much of yourself. You may start to feel tearful, tired, exhausted, anxious and physically drained. These are all symptoms indicating that you need to acknowledge, that you may need time for yourself.
Does this sound familiar? I am sure you are nodding.
How can you care for yourself with ease?
Do what you love – Read a book, take a walk, do some gardening, watch your favourite movie, have a sleep in, take a bath or resume an old hobby. The list can be endless.
Deep breathing – The power of the breath is so underrated! We take breathing for granted, something that we do without thinking. However, you can take your breathing to another level by practicing deep diaphragmatic breathing. Doing 3-5 slow deep breaths (in through your nose and out through your mouth) can reduce blood pressure, reduce cortisol and adrenaline (those stress hormones) and calm the mind. You can do it anytime and anywhere!
Journal writing – Daily writing in a book or note pad (also known as automatic writing) is another powerful way to get those persistent and worrying thoughts out of your head and onto paper. Nobody needs to see these words, nor do you have to re-read them. You can write about anything that is troubling you, even if you think it is minor. There is no judgement on what you write.
Self-talk- Believe it or not, you are your own worst critic. When you are feeling stressed, you may often berate yourself on how well or not, you deal with something. How many times in a day do you tell yourself, your stupid, an idiot, dumb, not worth it or can’t do it! Endless, right! You probably don’t even realise it. This type of negative self-talk only affirms your self-worth, or lack of it, as well as diminish your self-belief. It can make you feel down, anxious, low and less likely to cope with stress. Take the time to be kind to yourself. If you are struggling to do something, just try again and tell yourself you can do it and it takes time. Be kind to yourself, because you are worth it!
- Nourish your body – Your body thrives on foods that make you feel good. Eat foods that make you feel nourished. Eat a variety of vegetables, fresh fruits and proteins. There is nothing as comforting as warm vegetable or chicken soup or your favourite meal. Let someone else make something for you.
3. Gratitude and Appreciation
How many times in a day do you appreciate the little things in life? Being thankful for what is, can go a long way to reduce the current stress you may be under. Rather than dwell on what is not, take the time to be thankful and grateful for what is.
Apply appreciation to yourself, on a job well done or being grateful that you got through the day. Being grateful or appreciative does not have to be a grand gesture, it may simply be a small gesture of kindness that can make all the difference.
Be grateful to those close to you, give appreciation to that person who you rang today, your partner making dinner, a child picking a flower from a garden and giving it to you, or even someone showing you affection.
Being grateful or appreciative can help you feel more positive, improve your mental wellbeing, increase longevity and build stronger relationships.
Try being grateful or appreciative every day, no matter how small. A simple Thank you today can go along way for someone tomorrow.
4. Mindful Relaxation
When things are overwhelming and you have racing thoughts or too many decisions to make. That is the time to stop. Mindful relaxation is a method of observing your thoughts in a nonjudgmental way.
How do you get there?
There is no bus, train or someone to take you there. Only you can get there. The following suggestions may help.
- Sensory Creation is a method of engaging all your senses to calm the mind. Ideal for any child who can feel overwhelmed and heightened by their surroundings or their environment, but can be used by adults too.
What 5 things can you see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you taste?
By the time you have acknowledged and engaged all your senses with these tasks, your mind will be calm and racing thoughts should have dissipated.
- Meditation is a wonderful way to gently sit and observe your mind and thoughts. Whilst closing your eyes and concentrating on your breath, flowing in and out, simply observe and let go of any passing or racing thoughts. Try not to engage in your thoughts or get side tracked by them, simply focus on your breathing if your mind starts to wonder. Meditation is known for its ability to help ease worry and calm the mind. Physically, when you slow down your breathing, it may help reduce blood pressure and reduce physical pain. There is no right or wrong way to do it. Do it for as long as you feel the need to.
- Music comes in many styles and rhythms, which can benefit a stressful mind. Certain styles of music can reduce beta brain waves which can contribute to stress and rapid thoughts and increase more calming slow alpha brain waves which can calm the mind. There has been research and study done on the effects of music being played in operating theatres. The music has been shown to help a surgeon focus during an operation and has also benefited the patient by aiding in a faster recovery. Instrumental soothing music will increase your alpha brain waves and may help to calm and relax a worried mind.
Your stress may be constant or transient, but be comforted by the thought that in today’s current global challenge, you are not alone.
The road may be long and difficult but there are blue skies and sunshine ahead!