Stress. We hear about it every day. Stress at work. Emotional stress. Post-pandemic stress. It often feels like the world is in a stress crisis. We’ve even started talking about the stress of children and teens.
But what is stress? And can we better manage it?
First, let’s address what it is. Stress is a physical and emotional response to situations the body and mind find to be overwhelming. The key to managing stress is therefore finding a way to make these situations less overwhelming. Changing the actual situation is unlikely to happen – work and school will still add pressure to our lives, and the world is constantly changing and evolving.
Here are 4 ways to approach stressful situations in a better, healthier way, lessening the physical and emotional impact of stress:
Change the way you think about stress
In 2015, health psychologist and author Kelly McGonigal published her best-selling book, The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It. The book had one clear message based on years of ground-breaking research. Stress itself is not harmful. How we think about stress is what kills us.
The research was fascinating. 30 000 adults were carefully monitored for eight years. At the start of the study, participants were asked how much stress they had experienced in the last year, and if they believed stress was harmful to their health. Eight years later, public death records were used to see who had died.
Here’s the bad news: People who experienced a lot of stress in the previous year had a 43% higher chance of dying. But this is where the study becomes so interesting: This statistic only held true for people who also believed that stress is harmful.
People who experienced a lot of stress but did not view stress as harmful to their health were no more likely to die than people with absolutely no stress in their lives. In fact, the focus group who had experienced stress but didn’t view it as harmful actually had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study.
The lesson is simple but powerful – our mindset matters. If you can start thinking of stress and pressurised situations as a challenge to overcome and then celebrate when you do, you’ll naturally feel physically and emotionally better.
Practice deep breathing
We’ve all heard the saying, ‘take a deep breath’. It seems like a cliché, but there’s solid science behind taking deep breathes in stressful situations. When we are faced with a potentially stressful situation, our body perceives a threat (even if there isn’t one) and has a physical response to it activating our sympathetic nervous system, which controls the body’s fight or flight reactions. Of course, this response was extremely important (and life-saving) when we were cavemen. Today, it means that have a heightened reaction to situations that are not life-threatening.
So, how do you counteract this hard-wired response? Deep breathing reduces the activation of your sympathetic nervous system. Take a deep breath, hold it for the count of five seconds, release to a count of five seconds, and repeat, and you’ll activate your parasympathetic nervous system. Suddenly that perceived threat won’t seem so bad, and you won’t experience stress because of it.
Physical exercise and nutrition are very important when it comes to stress management. When your body is healthy, your mind can be healthy and vice versa. Physical exercise is proven to be a great stress reliever and also helps to increase your overall quality of life.
Stress levels and a proper diet are closely related. When we’re overwhelmed, we often forget to eat well and resort to using sugary, fatty snack foods as a pick-me-up. On top of that, stress can deplete certain vitamins, such as A, B complex, C and E. Maintaining proper nutrition not only helps your body feel better, but your mind as well, which allows you to better combat stress.
Try to avoid sugary snacks and plan ahead. Fruits and vegetables are always good, and fish with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce the symptoms of stress. Take daily supplements as well, and you should find yourself responding to potentially stressful situations with a far more positive mindset.
A healthy body also promotes better sleep, particularly if you are experiencing stress and it’s impacting your recommended eight hours. If you’re still having problems sleeping, add a good night-time routine to promote better shut-eye. Turn the TV off earlier, dim the lights, and give yourself time to relax before going to bed. It may be the most effective stress buster on our list.
Connect with others
Humans are social beings. As most of experienced during the pandemic and lockdowns, we need to have connections with people to feel supported. Finding a sense of community — whether at work, with a religious organisation, or through shared activities, such as organised sports and hobbies — is important to your well-being. Enjoying a shared activity allows you to find support and foster relationships that can make all the difference when we’re faced with change or challenging situations.
When you’re feeling stressed, take a break to call a friend and talk about your problems. Good relationships with friends and loved ones are important to any healthy lifestyle
They’re especially important when you’re under a lot of stress. A reassuring voice, even for a minute, can put everything in perspective.
Pulling it all together
Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Too much untreated stress can cause potentially serious physical and mental health problems.
The good news is that in many cases, stress is manageable. With some patience and a few useful strategies, you can reduce your stress, whether it’s family stress or stress at the workplace.
Visit Charisma by Adcorp to find out more today!