Dealing with stress: the good, the bad, and the ugly
Stress is a part of our everyday life. We can experience "good" stress (such as getting married or beginning a new job) or "bad" stress, such as losing a beloved pet.
Human beings are designed to respond and react to stress as a survival strategy. Our bodies naturally respond to stress by releasing cortisol and adrenaline and creating a "fight, flight" or "freeze" response. Useful in dangerous situations for thousands of years, (such as facing an attacking lion), these reactions are often not appropriate in our culture today. For example, if we experience stress at work, we probably shouldn’t act on our fight response by attacking or fighting with our employer!
We know that NOT dealing with stress is dangerous as it can create a variety of health and psychological issues. The harmful effects of continued stress can be linked to headaches, heart disease, stomach problems, insomnia, depression, and many other health related challenges. How can we effectively deal with daily stressors in our lives?
First of all, try to pinpoint the source of the stress. For example, is the stress linked to challenges at work, a current relationship, or is it a health issue? Try to see if you may be contributing to the stress. When we take responsibility for our behaviours, we may find that we are actually contributing to the problem.
This is especially important for taking care of health related issues. If you are having challenges with a family member, perhaps there is something that you are doing to create the problem? With just a slight shift in perspective, taking control of your behaviour may alleviate some of the stress.
However, there are many stressful situations that we cannot control. In these cases, here are some suggestions for establishing some stress reducing behaviours that can help you to cope more effectively.
First of all, learn to express your emotions in positive ways and don’t keep them inside. Allowing yourself to sit and stew about problems will often make them build. There are times when the only thing you can do is to change your response to the situation. This gives YOU the control.
Build a toolbox of things that give you joy. Take care of your physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Do you like to meditate or pray? Do you have a favourite hobby? Does listening to music appeal to you? Make a list of things that you love to do and take care of your mind, your body, and your spirit every day. It can be as simple as having a cup of herbal tea and sitting in your chair looking at the sky. It is these things that help our brain to recognize that we don’t need to run or fight and we are not in danger.
Physical exercise is one of the best ways to manage the stress response. Because we don’t have to run or fight anymore to protect ourselves, exercising allows us the opportunity for our body to move and to release feel-good hormones. Getting out for a quick, brisk walk at lunch or after work can help manage stress.
Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and refined sugars is also helpful. If you know that you are heading into a stressful time of year with work, plan your meals carefully. Make sure that you are eating well balanced and healthy meals. This can also help your body to cope more effectively with stress. Increase your water consumption and avoid alcohol in the evening.
It is also suggested that you focus on your sleep patterns. Stress can often hinder our ability to fall or stay asleep because when we go to bed, we become immersed in our negative thoughts. Establish a calming and soothing night time routine. Have a warm bath, drink some herbal tea, read a few pages of a book, keep a regular bedtime, or practice some relaxation techniques (yoga, stretching, deep breathing).
If you find that you are having challenges with stress and feel that you aren’t coping well, talk to a trusted colleague or friend, or see a trained therapist. Developing healthy strategies for coping with stressors in your life can assist you in reducing long-term health risks, create a more balanced and happier life, and give you power and control in your life.
And finally, although stress can be a challenge, it can also be positive. Ask yourself:
- What was I supposed to learn from this situation?
- Do I need to make some changes in my life?
- How can I be better at handling this in the future?
- What do I need to change to be more effective with people or challenges?
We can’t get rid of stress, we can only change our response, the way we take care of ourselves, and our thoughts about the situation.