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How to Stress Less

International Stress Awareness Week (1st-5th November 2021) is a good time to think about what you can to do reduce and prevent stress.

What is stress?

Stress is our body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event. It’s often triggered by unexpected events, or increased responsibility, or by high levels of uncertainty. People feel stressed when they have too much, or too little, to do. Or when they feel powerless to affect the outcomes of a situation.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), stress is “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures and demands placed on them”. Stress-related work absence has increased over the last year.

Positive and negative stress 

We need some stress or pressure to be able to perform. It motivates us to get through a challenge, without it we get bored, and function below our best. According to what is known as “The Yerkes-Dodson Law,” performance increases with physiological or mental arousal (stress). One example is the nerves we feel before a job interview.

But only up to a point. When the level of stress becomes too high, performance decreases. Too much stress, and too few adaptive coping strategies (positive ways of coping such as seeking help from a supportive friend) and something gives. When this happens, we may experience a range of symptoms from physical, emotional to cognitive and/or behavioural symptoms. Symptoms could include chest pains, headaches, raised blood pressure, feelings of anger or irritability, anxious or racing thoughts, or difficulty concentrating.

Survival mode 

The fight or flight response is an automatic physiological reaction to an event that is perceived as frightening, such as a large dog barking at you. The event activates the sympathetic nervous system prompting the release of hormones. These stress chemicals prime us for physical activity and are designed for short-term use. While this stress response can help us survive dangerous situations, it’s not always an accurate response and it’s usually caused by something that’s not life-threatening.

So, while our stress system was ideal for our ancestors confronting a tiger it’s not well-designed for modern-day life issues like managing workload, office politics, or worrying about elderly relatives. As a result, we are over-using the one stress system we have, and it is not fit for purpose.

Long term effects of stress  

When stress becomes long-term or chronic it can have serious effects on the body. Research has shown a connection between stress and chronic problems like high blood pressure, obesity, and depression. It compromises our digestive and healing and immune systems, prevents sleep, hijacks our higher, logical, lateral thinking brain, and generally stops us from functioning effectively.

As our stress levels increase, our ability to cope decreases. When we are relaxed, and our stress levels are low, the kids can throw a tantrum in the high street, or a driver can pull out in front of us in traffic and we will be able to respond in a measured way; deal with the situation in hand and move on. If our stress levels are already high, we are likely to react, rather than respond, maybe yelling at the kids, or making rude gestures at the driver, and we will still be ruminating about the situation hours later. Having strategies in place to manage our stress levels is vital to managing both our physical and mental wellbeing and enabling ourselves to cope when the going gets tough.

So how do you reduce and prevent stress? It is as easy as ABC

A = Awareness. Become aware of your warning signs of stress. Do you lose your sense of humour, become snappy, start to feel muscle tension, or develop headaches? Know your early warning signs so that you can intervene quickly.

B = Balance. Having spotted the signs, take prompt action to get back into balance. Simple strategies such as slowing your breathing to approximately 6 breaths per minute for 10 minutes can help rebalance your central nervous system, reboot the body and calm you down. Exercise, gives you a hit of helpful endorphins, enabling you to destress and rebalance. Hugging the kids, or cuddling your partner boosts oxytocin, calming the body and brain. Dancing to loud, lively music can boost mood and energy levels. Meditation (an umbrella term for a range of relaxation techniques) boosts the brain’s ability to recover from stress. What works for you? Develop your balance toolkit and USE it!

C = Control. Take action to address the stress. Adjusting your perspective on control is a simple and effective way to reduce stress. What can you control? For example, you can control how you interpret a situation, how you treat other people or the type of food you eat. What are you unable to control? You can’t control other people’s behaviour, feelings, or beliefs. What realistic steps can you take to deal with the stressors? The serenity prayer sums this up nicely:

“…grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

To find out more about the results you can expect with our live, high-impact training courses please get in touch with Abby Hodder at [email protected] or call us on 0845 1233757.

Photo by MART PRODUCTION from Pexels

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