How to Manage Stress
Stress is essentially our body going into fight-or-flight mode. A rush of norepinephrine, adrenaline and cortisol prepares our bodies and minds for the situation being thrown at us. Some stress is good (such as the day of your big exam ) some stress is not so good (such as being fired from work). Regardless of the cause, it is beneficial to understand techniques to manage stress.
Identify and Manage Stress
First and foremost, let us understand the basics. Stress is your body responding to the demands being presented to it. Stress can cause us to be more productive and force us to focus. If my client list keeps growing and my weekly deliverables escalates, I might feel more stress due to the increasing workload. A doctor may see a patient and realize they need immediate surgery, this type of stress pushes us to perform better.
Stress can also be related to life stressors that are very difficult to handle like divorce, moving to a new home or a loss of income. Stress can also come from internal stimuli instead of external. Jasmine might have low self-esteem and she doubts how well she performed at her interview. Despite the fact stress will not help Jasmine in this situation, she is worrying so much (anxiety) it is causing a stress reaction in her body.
Anything that puts a load on you can be considered stressful. External or Internal.
The issues usually arise when stress is constant. Chronic stress can lead to mental, emotional and physical issues. It is important to note that I mentioned it can impact you PHYSICALLY. Many people don’t realize the full impact of stress and a go-go-go lifestyle.
Let us look at a few symptoms to better understand how we can be impacted by stress. These lists are not fully inclusive, but it gives you an idea of what stress can do.
Physical Symptoms of Stress
- Digestive issues
- Loss of sexual desire/physical ability
- Muscles aches
- Lowered immune system
- Grinding of the teeth
- Chest pains
Emotional Symptoms of Stress
- Irritability and easily angered/snappy
- Lowered self-esteem
- Feeling inadequate and overwhelmed
- Feeling a need for intoxicants
Mental Symptoms of Stress
- Negative self-talk
- Becoming pessimistic
It is important to note that these symptoms may begin to spiral downward and things escalate until a person might struggle with crippling anxiety, a heart attack, eating disorders or develop an addiction to sleeping medications in order to handle their insomnia. We must treat the root, not just the symptom. We must manage our stress affectively which will in turn manage the symptoms.
Techniques to Manage Stress
The good news is that stress can be managed. Coping skills are not a one-size-fits-all. It is beneficial to identify individualized coping skills and techniques that enable you to reduce and better manage stress. There is more than one way to achieve the same goal.
Breathing techniques are a great way to manage stress and you can do this anywhere. Take a slow, deep breath through your nose and out of your mouth. Slowly count 1…2…3…4 in your head as you begin to breathe in and out. Focus on your breathing, feel your abdomen expand. Repeat this as many times as needed until you feel calmer.
Progressive relaxation is helpful for a stressful moment and it also aides in helping some people with insomnia fall asleep faster. Find a comfortable position sitting or laying, turn off external distractions such as a phone or television. Close your eyes and begin with your feet, tell yourself in your mind “my feet are relaxed” while breathing slowly. After one or two slow breaths, move to your calves. Tense them up and then release, tell yourself “my calves are relaxed”. Move to your upper legs and repeat. Continue this until you have covered every inch of your body from your head to your feet. Some people get better results by tensing up muscles then releasing, others will mentally focus on one spot at a time without physically tensing. I prefer to mix the two.
Visualizations are a great way to induce positivity and manage stress. Using your imagination visualize a place that brings you peace, calmness and makes you smile. Engage all 5 senses as best you can. I will use an example of the forest as this is a happy place for me.
See the green trees and the moss covered ground. Feel the soft ground underneath you like a natural pillow. Smell the fresh air. Taste a rain drop. Listen to the pit-pat of raindrops on the leaves.
Exercise is really so beneficial for many reasons, not just stress. This can be a regular exercise routine or it can be something you do during moments of high-stress such as right before a big exam. Stand up and do some jumping jacks, burpees, squats and finish with some rocky-movie triumphant air boxing. (If you don’t know that reference, just think of yourself as a champion while air boxing)
These are just a few techniques to help you better manage stress. Please let me know what techniques work for you, share your happy place with us if you like! It is not possible to avoid stressful situations during our life, but it is possible to manage stress and the symptoms related to it. I have said it many times before and I say it again, it is not what happens to us that defines who we are, it is how we react to it.