If your friend or colleague tells you they are “stressed out” your concerned response is: “What happened?” “Why? What’s wrong?”
Assumptions about Stress
We automatically assume that stress is a bad thing. Although we tend to think of stress as a negative circumstance, it can actually be a good thing under the right conditions. No, really!
Think about the last time you had a deadline – when it seemed so, so far away – lack of stress made you sleepy, made you watch YouTube videos (or, insert your favored procrastination activity here). Am I right?
Why We Might Actually Benefit From Stress
Stress can help you perform better, grow stronger and feel more motivated – as long as you know to differentiate between the good and the bad.
We call this good stress, “eustress,” from the Latin prefix “eu-” meaning “good” or “beneficial.” Interestingly, these short periods of stress may help improve brain function and learning. They trigger the “fight or flight” response in-built in all humans that allows us to move forward, or in other words, progress, learn, grow and achieve more quickly.
Bad Stress – The Chronic Kind
Aside from this good stress there is bad stress that has associations with a lasting type of damage, in particular when we undergo long-term periods of this negative stress. Disruption to our mental or psychological wellbeing can materialise in the form of depression or anxiety disorders. Our physical bodies weaken under this bad stress mainly because it is sustained over such a long period of time: we have just not caught a break! (NOTE: remind me to take that break).
Chronic stress is depleting in every sense of the word. That fight or flight response mentioned earlier is the time when our bodies undergo physical responses to short-term stress. This response does not account for long-term stress because it actually alters your body’s immune response, digestive and excretory responses etc. all in the name of survival. If we stay in this survival mode it becomes a lifestyle, a pattern, a way of life or habit that can potentially lead to heart disease, fatigue, weight gain and a number of other health conditions. This is chronic stress.
Habits are formed by consistency – good and bad!
Consider the following tips on how to rebuild your energy and find peace within the challenges of day-to-day life:
Focus on your breathing. That is all. Can you notice how many different types of breath we have? Now slow your breathing. Focus your breathing. Notice your shoulders relax. You get the idea. Try mixing this up with your own personal meditation or take a kundalini yoga class. Whichever floats your boat. The point is that you are aware of your external environment and you are focused in the now and the one simple task that is necessary to life. Surely, it cannot get much simpler than that?
Yes, that’s right. I said it. Exercise, get moving and get in the zone. It has been clinically proven that exercise is good for reducing your levels of bad stress and actually keeps your mind focused on the tasks at hand throughout the rest of the day. You get more done – not less – as is the common excuse.
For example, I hear women talk about getting sweaty before work and having no access to showers or having no time to blow dry their hair, carry a separate bag for their gym kit or work out attire. Excuses. I’m sorry but they are. You can do whatever your mind is set on. You know this so if you feel that exercise is important you will do. You will find a way to make it work and guess what? I’m not even going to do it for you.
Apparently, nothing mimics prolonging the fight or flight response quite like forgetting to eat. Does this really happen to people, to you? Or, perhaps more commonly, eating but forgetting you have eaten i.e. working non-stop at your desk, typing furiously, answering those emails, getting through that ‘To Do” pile while you anxiously debate whether to check on your PA just in case she forgot to forward your bills to you, send out for your dry cleaning or arrange the location for the next meeting that is actually in 5mins. You get the picture. Why not try this instead.
Simply changing the way you are eating. Even if it is for that one meal or snack in the day. The way you eat can have an impact on the gut-brain axis just as much as what you are eating does. Let’s rewind that last part about the gut-brain axis. As we said earlier, long-term stress alters your body’s immune response. Your gut is the largest organ in your immune system. So if we can take time out to chew our food properly – or at least look at it while we eat it – we are engaging our gut-brain axis that is a kind of database for the way in which our body reacts to stress or sickness. We are retraining it and we can create good habits, therefore, when we engage the two in this one simple daily act of nourishment.
Do something productive other than work. Try it. It really does work. You are already programmed to achieve but time is always of the essence. Let’s put the multi-tasking to one side and just focus on one task. Fold jeans. Tidy your sock drawer. Cook an amazing meal or bake something amazing for your colleagues to make a real change from the usual cocktails after work, on the boss, of course!
If you build it, they will come. When you build it, it will come. Use that same work ethic to build your empire to build the environment that enables you to stay on your path to health. Whether that environment be your white on white work station or your ‘space’ or place you go when you can feel it piling up, find that place. Use it. Whenever you wish to.
Sometimes we can be so occupied with building that we don’t take time to reflect on what we have achieved. We don’t acknowledge it, let alone celebrate it. Skipping this process can actually aggravate triggers of chronic stress. How? We can become disillusioned to the fact that building is a process and that we have actually faced our fears before so it is totally possible to do it all over again. Daily.
Now I want to hear about your favourite ways to de-stress. Don’t be shy. After all, you could be saving someone’s life and now you know why.