Stressing about Stress!

Have you noticed that life is getting more stressful? There is so much to do! So many people are needing too much of us; needing too much of our time, too many unrealistic deadlines, taking too much of our energy, too much of our smiles, too much of our physicality (showing up even when we are ill), too much of our thoughts, too much of our sleep because we cannot switch off, too much of having to listen to others because we want to be a good friend, too many demands at home being a wife, husband, daughter, son, grandparent, friend, lover, too much of the whirlwind of life, too much social media, too much depressing news, too much of too much… The list can continue.

We plough on, wanting to be the best at what we do, wanting others to notice the amazing effort which we are putting in for others’ benefit. We need to slow down a little to think why we keep pushing until we virtually break. So many times, we are not aware that everything which we do is based on fear. We are fearful that our boss might not be happy with what we are doing, fearful of the monetary situations in our private life, fearful that we are going to be left alone, fearful of the arguments in the homestead, fearing about the fear, fearful that we are not enough. We strive and strive to be the best that we can be, striving for others’ recognition to make us feel a little better about everything, but this is just popping a sticking plaster over the deep weeping wound.

The fact is, it is unusual for a day to pass by without us feeling pressured in some way or another. Sometimes, the pressures can be difficult to define. We need to be able to understand our cognitive behaviours which make us approach an event that our mind then perceives as stressful.

There are different forms of stress: harm, threat, and challenge. Harm stress is psychological damage that has already happened such as trauma, loss, abandonment which can be often linked with low moods. The second is ‘threat’ stress, where the mind sees the anticipation of harm that has not happened yet. The third is ‘challenge’ stress, which results from difficult demands that are placed on us – these are the ones in which we feel as though we can meet and manage such as work-based challenges.

We all know that some stresses are helpful and innate deep within us, with the ‘fight, flight and freeze’ stresses. These are helpful where our mind and body work together in automatic pilot, motivating our body to either get away from danger quickly, to freeze until our danger has gone or to stand and fight. If we switch our body and mind off to these essential stresses, then that can also be harmful, so we need to allow some level of stress within us. It is how this stress is perceived that is the game-changer. Some professional actors and singers crumble under that fight, flight, freeze sensation, where the body is being pumped with adrenaline into every muscle, taking away the blood supply from the brain to the muscles within the legs to run causing pins and needles in our extremities. The heart has rapid pumping, allowing the blood to get to where it needs to quickly and efficiently. Our bodies and minds are remarkable doing all of this to protect us without us even realising it is happening – it just does it for us! Some professionals switch the mindset to thrive on this feeling, stating that they could never go on stage and perform without this. What would you do? Would you feel the feeling turn and run, preventing a career to blossom or would you embrace it and use it to create something phenomenal?

We cannot dispute how awesome Adelle is; however, she has been incredibly vocal with regards to her stage fright, feeling a deliberating discomfort before going on stage but battles through. Other professionals include Katy Perry, Barbara Streisand, Rihanna, Eddie Van Halen to name just a few. Other professionals have flipped this mindset, feeling the blood pumping through their veins, feeling their heart alive in their chest, feeling the excitement within their hands and legs as they are trembling, can’t wait to get out there and do what they do… the only difference to these same symptoms is the reframing of the mind.

What we have to do, is understand what our stress is. We need to understand what our trigger points are and also understand that when we are stressed, what habits we have formed. When stressed, we can be constantly looking for any source of comfort or familiarity. Junk food is an easily accessible source of comfort, which typically leads to extreme overeating in response to a stressful event. Whilst it momentarily calms us down, the effect is not permanent. However, others have the opposite reaction to stress and reject the food, starving themselves, believing that this is helping them but it is as a form of self-punishment. The cortisol hormone issued by stress is associated with weight gain and heightened levels of fat storage. Stress tangles with our metabolism, making the body accumulate more energy from the food we eat than we actually need. Unfortunately, it also collects this fat in the abdominal area, which brings a multitude of health risks. Stress accumulated weakens our immune system which can eventually cause us to be ill and even break us.

As already mentioned, we need to understand what stress is for us and also what our trigger to this stress is. We need to ask ourselves whether this is a perceived stress or a real threat? One way to help is to monitor your mood, does this fluctuate during the day and if so, why, what happened to change this mood? Be realistic with yourself and your ability to cope by identifying and evaluating negative thoughts about your coping ability. Reframe your thoughts to a situation or a future situation. Take note of your initial thought and then flip it on its head to a positive one. Every time a negative thought appears in your mind, acknowledge it by noticing that it is there, then attribute it by action telling this negative thought to ‘back off’ and with all of your effort, reframe it to a positive outcome. It will take time but persevere. You deserve to live a stress-free life. Look inwards, acknowledge, attribute, act. You need to listen to what your body is telling you. Have you heard of ‘the path of least resistance? Sometimes, we need to revolutionise our life to take away these frictions, these stresses to live the life in which we were destined to live.

Reducing stress will also alleviate low mood, anxiety and anger as well as improve your self-esteem.

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