Stress is one of the worst enemies of our health and well-being. It is a stressor that activates our flight or fight response. We are not designed to be in this state for long periods of times, it is a mechanism for survival.
If you were chased by a lion, your brain would determine whether you are strong enough to fight it. If not, it would make you run. If you were caught and you couldn’t fight nor escape, it would tell your body to freeze.
Under a stressful situation, your brain determines what the best strategy for survival is.
That is extremely helpful if we need to escape from that hungry lion. Our brain would signal our body that the priority is to stay alert and give as much fuel to the muscles as needed so we can run as fast as we can!
But while all your energy is directed to staying alert and running away, other functions of the body are not considered a ‘priority’. The priority is to run.
The problem is that your brain doesn’t understand if the threat is a lion trying to eat you or an email from your boss, an argument, or the news and its fear-inducing propaganda.
So if you are in a state of alert for many hours a day, every day of the week, body functions like digestion, sleep and the immune system will be heavily impacted, as your brain will determine that they are not a priority. This could result in different types of symptoms and health problems.
We are exposed to the 21st century ‘hungry lions’ every day. Stress at work, stress in the house, stress commuting, rushing from one appointment to another, constant notifications and stimuli…No wonder most people have health problems or are unable to have a sense of inner peace and well-being!
So let’s break down the elements of stress:
Think about stress like water filling-up a bath tub.
Every person can tolerate a different level of stress before they go out of balance.
Stress levels we can deal with can even be beneficial if we use it for our growth and development.
Think about that rush of adrenaline when you have to speak in front of a team. It helps you stay focused and concentrated on an important task.
When we are under levels of stress we can’t handle, our emotional and physical health goes out of balance.
Elements of stress and what we can do about them:
1.STRESSORS. SITUATIONS THAT PUT US IN A STATE OF ALERT.
Make a list of your main stressors. What triggers you to feel stressed, scared or anxious?
How can you reduce or remove them?
Think of 3-5 actions you can start taking this week to reduce or remove sources of stress.
This would be the equivalent to closing the tap in the example with the bath tub.
But sometimes it’s not possible to reduce or remove certain stressors, and that’s why the second element is so important – knowing how to release stress.
2.STRESS RELIEF TECHNIQUES.
Think about releasing stress like pulling out the plug in the water tub before the water overflows.
After a stressful day, we basically need to tell our brain that we are safe, so we can go back to normal. We need to tell our brain that the lion is not chasing us anymore.
How can we do this?
There are some simple but powerful techniques to release stress:
Exercising lowers your body’s stress hormones plus it releases feel-good chemicals like endorphins.
It is a great way to disconnect from your worries and give yourself a break from your thoughts.
If you don’t have energy or time to fit a daily workout in your routine, going for a walk while listening to nice music will already help!
Journaling is one of my favourite tools ever. Simple, accessible to everyone and tremendously effective.
Write about your worries, about how you feel, just let it all out. Write without thinking about the grammar or trying to be politically correct. If you feel angry or frustrated, just write whatever comes to your mind. No one will see it, you can even throw away the piece of paper when you’re done, this is just for your emotional well-being.
Journaling can also give you clarity around a problem if you breakdown the problem and write about potential solutions.
3.Release your emotions in a healthy way.
4.Have a conversation or hug someone you feel safe with.
When we hug or touch someone we like our bodies also release feel good hormones.
If you have a stressful day, just ask for a hug when you get home and you’ll see how you feel better almost immediately.
5.Practice some relaxation techniques like meditation, guided visualisations or mindfulness.
Even practising a few minutes of deep breathing just focusing on your breath will help, it doesn’t need to be anything complicated.
There are many online resources with guided meditations or classes, just try a few and see what works for you.
When done in the evening, it will also help you sleep better.
6.Connecting with love and gratitude.
Before going to bed, close your eyes for a few minutes, put your hands on your heart and visualise yourself in a safe space, connecting with feelings of love and gratitude. In this article I give more details about the importance of gratitude and how you can add it to your daily routine.
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