Reflections on Stress

Posted on 5th June 2020

 
Reflections on Stress.


I've been reflecting on this current situation and how it's been affecting me and those I speak to. One way I can describe it, is that it's been a rollercoaster ride of emotions. There have been times when I've felt incredibly motivated and grateful for my health and life. Other times I've felt fearful and found it more difficult to feel positive, creative and productive. It occurred to me that what I've been noticing is the effects of excessive pressure on my mind and body. Ironic really, as I frequently teach about this stuff. Pressure can be such a motivating force, but when it becomes too much, we can be beset by brain fog and physical symptoms such as headaches and muscle pains. If we don't manage this early, it can turn into stress.


I thought I would share the following advice as a reminder for myself as to the best way to manage stress. I hope this might contain some useful tips for you too.


What is Stress?


Stress is our bodies’ response to excessive pressure and it begins with the release of adrenaline and cortisol. This triggers our fight and flight response – really helpful if our life is in danger or we want to perform for a short period of time, but not always helpful for managing ongoing pressures.


 What happens when we experience stress?


Adrenaline and cortisol affect most parts of the body, so we can experience many symptoms. Immediate effects are a dry mouth, sweaty palms, high alertness, muscle tension and our stomach and bowels stop working effectively. If the stressors continue, the symptoms can become more significant and lead to various ailments, such as headaches, gastritis and an inability to think clearly (brain fog). Longer term this can lead to chronic illnesses, such as depression, anxiety and heart disease.


Thinking about thinking


How we perceive pressure makes a huge difference to whether or not we feel stressed. If we think it’s a stressor then it is. Conversley, if we reframe an event or situation to see it as exciting or a challenge, then our physiology will actually respond differently, so we don’t become as stressed. Check out this great TED talk to find out more: https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend#t-852867


I'm not saying that the current situation isn't stressful - it is. There are real dangers out there at the moment from Covid-19, our unseen viral enemy that's causing havoc across the globe. We do however have a choice about where we focus our attention, we can choose not to dwell on the fear and uncertainty all the time. Instead we can take opportunities to focus on the good things, even the small things, like being able to use technology to keep in touch with those that we can't be with at the moment.


What else can we do to prevent and manage stress?

 

  • Manage your time well – make to do lists and prioritise, set achievable targets and build in time for restoring your energy levels. Acknowledge that you may have added responsibilities at the moment, e.g. home schooling your children, helping your neighbours.
 

  • Take care of yourself with regular aerobic exercise, which helps to use up the stress hormones – try brisk walking, running, cycling, dancing or something else that you enjoy. Get outside in nature - it's allowed and it's so good for us.
 

  • Make sure you have a good support network and be prepared to use it.
 

  • Use humour to help you to retain some positivity – try watching or listening to programmes that you can laugh to.
 

  • Develop a practice of gratitude - write down 3 new things every day that you feel grateful for. This makes such a difference to your brain chemistry.
 

  • Eat healthily and get enough sleep –these really help our bodies to fight off the effects of cortisol. It's really common to be dreaming alot at the moment, we're all processing the crisis.
 

  • Meditate – meditation teaches us to be more responsive and less reactive.
 

  • Try to get a good balance between work, rest and play.
 

  • Importantly, if you think you might have a stress related illness, such as anxiety or depression, contact your GP for advice.
 


Thriving


Even making small changes can make a real difference to your stress levels and I hope that these tips help you to survive and even thrive in the months to come.
 

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