DEALING WITH STRESS IN YOUR OWN WAY
HOLISTIC STRESS MANAGEMENT…
….takes a personal and whole person approach to stress and mitigating our reactions and responses to stress.
First, it’s important to understand the what, why, when and how’s of stress.
Is Stress helpful or harmful?
Stress is a natural response that is embedded in our biological make up to help us deal with life threatening situations- like a saber toothed tiger hunting us down for dinner. When we are under this kind of life and death stress, all non-essential services go off-line and the body is flooded with stress hormones (adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol) that turn us into super humans so we can run like hell. Thank you, Mother Nature.
Once the threat has passed, this stress mechanism is meant to shut off. But when it doesn’t shut down or if gets triggered too frequently (like everyday), we encounter problems over time.
Our bodies are super smart, but unfortunately, they can’t distinguish between the stress of being chased by saber toothed tiger and the chronic mental stress of modern life.
What happens when you are constantly stressed?
Chronic exposure to stress hormones puts a huge amount of wear and tear on the body (mainly cardiovascular, respiratory, musculoskeletal systems) because they are meant to push our bodies into high alert mode, and work at maximum capacity. And the systems that deal with rest, digestion, healing/ immunity, and mood modulation are put on pause so that all energies can be diverted to the essentials. Not only our bodies under great strain, there are no mechanisms available to nourish nor recharge. This becomes unsustainable over time. Additionally, our bodies cannot keep up with clearing the constant flood of stress hormones, leading to toxic build up.
What causes stress?
The causes of stress can vary from person to person. But the most common modern-day stressors are expectations and demands that exceed our capacity. This can be time, money, ability, mental and emotional band-with, personal comfort levels.
But not all stress is bad. Sometimes, stress gives us the push we need to move forward. But when it becomes constant or overly intense, it becomes counterproductive, making us feel overwhelmed and beat down.
How can I deal better with stress?
Much of the stress of modern life is mental in origin. There is no tiger chasing us. The good thing about this is, if you can change how you think, you can change how you feel. The bad thing about this is 1) we spend a lot of time in our heads, and 2) it takes a lot of control and practice to change how you think.
One of the biggest challenges is learning to think that we’re good enough- in this moment. This allows us to be kind and compassionate to ourselves. Life is hard enough without beating yourself up for the ways you or others think you should be vs how you are.
It’s important to recognize what makes YOU feel safe and comfortable and what makes YOU feel scared and crazy. Yes, there are societal norms, but these are very personal things that differ from person to person, and cannot be dictated by society at large. So long as no one is being harmed or put in danger, each of us is entitled to what works best for us. When you can allow for this for yourself, you can begin to allow for it in others- and the circle of kindness and compassion grows.
For example, knowing that I have a back up plan to my back up plan makes me feel safe. To some people my planning may seem obsessive, but to me, it makes me feel prepared. It’s OK for me to be this way.
Reframe what seems stressful
Things can be challenging without being threatening. Overcoming challenges, figuring out different approaches, and learning new things helps us grow. This is exciting!
Let some things go.
When you are in fight or flight or survival mode, you are meant to be a tightly wound coil, ready to spring into action, so that you can run to safety or take down the rhinoceros that is charging at you. When you are chronically in stress mode, you are chronically tightly wound. Everything starts to look and feel imperative and dire, whether they really are or not. If we can let go of the things that aren’t actually that big of a deal, we can take things down a notch and lighten the load. For me- this would pertain largely to my kids- brushing teeth well, getting to bed on time, getting their school work done in a timely fashion. None of these things are actually threats to us.
Prevention is key…
…in just about every situation in life. So, if we can nip stress in the bud, and not let our brains lead us down the path of obsessive over thinking, especially about things that are beyond our control, life would be so much less…. stressful. This ties in with the previous idea of letting some things go. When we are already in a heightened state of stress, it’s easy to get further ensnared in the little things. Everything becomes a trigger.
Can you take half a step back from your perception that many of the stressful situations at hand are not life threatening? This is not to say that you can blow off tasks that might result in losing a job or a home. But if you can take just a few things off your list of stressors, this allows for more room to deal calmly with the important things that could actually jeopardize your situation.
When we are tired, beat down, and pushed beyond our natural abilities we feel the pressures of life even more intensely. Pressure begets more pressure. When internal pressure builds up beyond the capacity of the vessel, and there is no release, an explosion will ensue. It is essential to have tools to vent and release stress in unharmful ways. Again, this is a very personal thing- for some people it’s meditation, for others it’s listening to music and drawing, for others its exercise or gardening. The best way is whatever works for you. Allow yourself to engage in things that take your mind off of the stressor, things that are mindless and repetitive, things that bring YOU joy and calm.
Take away’s for holistic stress management:
Be kind to yourself.
Let some things go.
Try not to let the monster get out of control
You deserve to vent in non-harmful ways (in ways that work for you).