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Stress - what is it and how to manage.

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

It's important to know that not all stress is bad stress. We need a certain amount of stress to motivate us and keep us focused.

This type of stress can be productive, it's what keeps us going and gets us motivated to actually do things. It can be the thing that gives us the get up and go needed to be productive.

Positive stress can be short lived and helpful to get us through potentially difficult situations. It can help us meet work deadlines or avoid danger.

It can help us be alert for an exam or job interview.

But when does it become too much and get out of hand?

Read on to find out in this quick guide to stress. 👇

What exactly is stress, how does it feel?

Stress can feel like being alert, ready, and motivated, or it can feel like 'nerves' jitters or similar. It is usually short lived.

Longer term, less useful stress is different.

💥We feel it physically, mentally and emotionally. Stressful events will affect everyone in different ways.

🙇Physical signs - tension all over, bodily aches, bodily symptoms such as digestive issues, headache, dizziness, fatigue, loss of or increased appetite, being unable to sleep or frequent waking.😧

😥Emotional signs - feeling on high alert to everything, an increased startle response, feeling irrational, overestimating danger, maybe feeling you can't focus on everyday tasks, feeling tearful.

😤Behavioural signs - arguing over everything and nothing, procrastinating, increase in unhealthy coping mechanisms - alcohol in excess, gambling, etc. Nail biting, and similar habits. Some people may want to reach out to others while some may withdraw completely.

🙇We may experience some or all of the above, or may have bouts of each one.

It comes as no surprise that sitting at home, trying to work or sleep in a body that is primed for survival, won't feel very pleasant. Attempting to just not think about it and calm down likely will only work minimally if at all. Your brain is primed for ancient survival mechanisms - the type that would have been useful for our ancestors facing a wild animal, or very occasionally useful for us in a dangerous situation today.

Stress management

The problem is, we are still primed for the same survival as back in our ancestors day - however our bodies haven't evolved as quickly as the modern world, and we can't tell the difference between something that we need to respond to with adrenaline or something we don't. That is, the ancient primal survival brain doesn't understand the difference between a real danger and an imagine one, it just wants to keep us safe. This is where longer term, ongoing stress can be counterproductive. An adrenaline or fight/flight/freeze response is only meant to be useful for short bursts - just enough time to get us away from the danger or to fight it.

Long term, stress can start to wear us down physically and emotionally. The brain is probably doing the right thing - just in the wrong situation and for too long.

We all have a stress container - that is a tolerance level that will be different for everyone. If you can imagine your container overflowing when stress becomes too much - you have reached your tolerance level. Your individual experiences to date, your personal life stressors and situations will all determine your tolerance level or how deep your stress container is, how much it can hold before it overflows.

Coping techniques can help to lighten your stress container, and help you to lighten the load.

What can we do then to help ourselves❓

💨BREATHE 🌬️ Let's start with the basics. Yes we are all breathing already, hopefully. We can breathe to live or we can breathe effectively. If we are breathing in a fast, shallow breath, our primal brain and autonomic nervous system gets the message - more danger. ⚠️ So it becomes a cycle. You have control over this - control your breathing and you send the message to the brain that all is ok. Aim to keep your breaths slow, steady and even all the way down to your belly. 🌈Colour breathing is very useful - imagining breathing in or around your body a calming colour, bringing with it a sense of ease. On the out breath, imagine that colour changing and taking away tension.

stress management

😌 Ground Your Senses 😌
We are being bombarded with all kinds of sensory input at the moment. The 54321 technique can be a great grounding method.

5️⃣ Look around your surroundings and find FIVE things you can see, look at those things and describe them.

4️⃣ Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you. Objects close by - remember your hand washing though 😉 👍

3️⃣ Acknowledge THREE things you hear. This could be any external sound.

2️⃣ Acknowledge TWO things you can smell.

1️⃣ Take one slow deep breath. By using your senses in this way, you can help to ground yourself in the moment.

Stress management

😆 Laugh 😃
Humour is a great antidote to anxiety. Spend an hour each day watching your favourite comedy show, or talking with friends, you can't beat a good joke with friends. 👍

If you are able, movement is the best way to discharge all those stress hormones flying around your body. Your survival brain is ensuring your body is primed for action, while sitting there worrying. Perfect recipe for anxiety: all those stress hormones floating around your body will keep you on high alert so harmless things become big things...keeping the cycle going.

Stress management

📝 Plan ✍️
Having a clear solid plan for the future will give your brain a message that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that you'll get through it. Having a strong future focus is the perfect way to take yourself from emotional panic to logic. Think of something you really want to do, that means something to you. Focus strongly on this - visualise it, feel it, imagine it, and look forward to it!

⌛Limit your exposure to stressful events on the news or online. The brain is taking all this onboard and it becomes your inner world - remember that part of the brain dealing with the stress hormones doesn't differentiate between a real and imagined danger. Mayne some things you hear and read about are a real danger but they are not happening right now, so the adrenaline it brings won't help.

If you need more help with managing stress, I offer a fabulous course - four weeks to Calm Your Mind, packed with valuable techniques to help you break free from stress.

Claire 🙂

*It is important to get a check with your GP if you have experienced any of the physical signs of stress above for a long time or with no obvious cause.
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