Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure.
Pressure turns into stress when we feel unable to cope. We feel unable to cope when there is a mismatch between demands made (real or perceived) and our ability (real or perceived) to meet them. It is the balance between how we view the demands made on us, and how we think we can cope with them, that determines how stressed we feel.
Two people may react differently to the same situation, for example, an event that is perceived as stressful for one person may be motivational to someone else.
Feelings of tension and anxiety are normal body reactions that take place when we become aware of a threat to our wellbeing. This is referred to as the fight or flight response, a physical reaction in our bodies that makes sure we have the ability to respond instantly to a threatening situation.
Our sympathetic nervous system controls the fight or flight response. This is the same system responsible for body functions that are not under our conscious control (heart rate, breathing, sweating, etc). It is an instant reflex reaction which means we have little control over the starting up of the fight or flight response.
However, we can learn techniques to keep our stress level low and prevent it from becoming overwhelming and leading to more distressing and unhealthy situations.
Adrenalin is released from the adrenal gland when the body activates the fight or flight response. This adrenalin triggers physical changes (stomach churning sensations, fast breathing, heart palpitations, sweaty palms, restlessness, etc.) and when the worrying situation is dealt with, these symptoms miraculously fade.
Stress can also be the negative side effect of insufficient pressure to drive our lives forward. Being stuck in a rut with little stimulation can be just as unpleasant as being loaded with too many tasks and not enough time.
Stress is not an illness in itself, however it can cause serious illness if not dealt with.
It is very important to recognise the symptoms early:
- Comfort eating
- Lack of concentration.
- High blood pressure
- Dry mouth
- Clammy hands
- Ringing in ears
Many of us use ingrained unhealthy habits to hide our stress or forget what is troubling us. Such problems occur when stress becomes an ingrained habit rather than a useful resource.
Take time to understand what helps you destress, and practise these things regularly.
Here are some ideas :
- Breathe in for the count of 7 and out for the count of 11. Notice your shoulders drop, tension release from your forehead and your lungs squeeze when you breathe out.
- Blow all your stress into a balloon, tie a knot and push it away. Imagine all tensions disappearing in that balloon.
- Create an action that calms you (ie: every time I rub my ear, my inner voice says “all is well”.)
- Go for a walk.
- Listen to your favourite music.
- Watch a comedy or read jokes.
- Write down what’s worrying you, then tear the piece of paper in small bits and push into the bin.
How do you combat stress? Share with us in the comments.