u n d e r s t a n d i n g s t r e s s
Stress, unfortunately, is a part of life and it’s something every single one of us experiences. Whilst a small level of stress can be a good thing, as it helps to motivate you and give you an energy boost, long-term emotional stress can be extremely detrimental to your health. It really is a silent killer.
For many, stress is an emotion that usually goes unnoticed, or is ignored and shoved aside completely. Sometimes, it is easier to pretend that everything is alright when really it isn’t, because admitting that you’re struggling makes you appear weak. But this is the worst thing you can do. Pushing your worries to the back of your mind doesn’t help, it only makes stress worse in the long run. A counselor described to me that we all carry a rucksack on our backs, and every time we refuse to address our worries and causes of stress, we add more weight to the bag, and one day it’s going to get so heavy we won’t even be able to stand up and walk.
Stress comes in many shapes and sizes and is unique to each person – it affects us all differently. Recently, I’ve been in a position where stress has been too much, and yet, I’ve felt guilty for feeling stressed, which has only added to it further. It frustrates me when others say (not just to me, but anyone) ‘what have you got to be stressed about?’, as though you’re being overdramatic for feeling a certain way. You don’t have to work long, unsociable hours to be stressed. Nor do you have to be going through a divorce or exams to feel stressed. Sometimes, stress can be a sign that something in your life needs to change, no matter how small or big. It’s a sign you’re not happy, and it definitely should not be ignored.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve experienced what stress can do, not just emotionally, but physically as well. For me, it began with a tight, heaviness in my chest that grew and grew. Next came the sensation of holding my breath, which I do experience regularly due to anxiety. My mood changed as I began to snap at others, I constantly worried that there just wasn’t enough hours in the day, I would get angry as I felt I had no control, I had no idea what was happening to me or why I felt so unhappy and anxious all the time. Sleep was my savior; a time to quieten my mind and forget. It wasn’t until I experienced a painful, burning rash appear on my face and body that I realised just how much stress had taken its toll on my body. Of course, it is always advisable to check any unusual symptom with a doctor, but sometimes, as in my case, it can be down to stress.
The first step in addressing stress is to admit that you are and work out what is causing you to feel it. Once you’ve done that, you are then better equipped to work on improving the way you manage it and also alleviate the physical symptoms as well. The mind-body connection is such a powerful tool, and it is something I want to learn about further and practice it myself. I’m terrible for getting worked over and worried over the smallest things.
Just remember, stress only exists because of our reaction to it.
s i g n s o f s t r e s s
Stress has a massive impact on the body as the production of cortisol increases, affecting your emotional, mental and physical health. Cortisol is released due to the body’s natural fight or flight response when faced with fear, helping our bodies to remain alert and keep us out of danger. However, too much cortisol in the blood can cause serious havoc on the body by suppressing your immune system and causing serious illnesses.
e m o t i o n a l
Anger & Irritability
Unhappy & Emotional
m i n d
b o d y
Nausea & digestive issues
Aches & Pains
Frequent viruses & infections
Increased blood pressure
b e h a v i o u r
Sleeping too much/too little
t i p s f o r m a n a g i n g
s t r e s s
p h y s i c a l e x e r c i s e
Exercise is a fantastic stress reliever as it clears your mind, releases those feel-good endorphins and pumps fresh blood around your body. With so many different ways to partake in physical activity, you have complete control over what form of exercise is right for you and your body. Boxing and body combat classes are great at releasing anger and tension, yin yoga is gentle for the days you want a more quiet, restorative practice, and walking outdoors is the best therapy you can give yourself. I know that during stressful periods exercise is the last thing on your mind, but it really does have the power to ease stress and focus your thoughts elsewhere. The key to developing a regular exercise program to manage stress is to make sure you’re exercising little and often. Smashing out two hours of exercise in one day is great, but if you’re not exercising daily, it’s going to have little effect. So, start slowly and listen to your body.
b r e a t h e t h r o u g h i t
If you’re like me, and you find yourself holding your breath during stressful situations, it is important to be mindful and take a few moments to focus on breathing deeply. Taking shallow breaths means you aren’t exhaling properly, which makes it harder to take full breaths in and can make you feel like you are suffocating. The best way to address this problem is simple. Breathe. If you’re feeling anxious, it’s likely your heart is beating faster than normal, causing you to feel even more on edge, but by bringing awareness to your breath, you can slow your heart rate and think more clearly. There are so many apps and videos that you can follow to practice different breathing techniques, as well as practice yoga, which focuses on synchronizing your breath with movement.
m a k e a c h a n g e
Stress doesn’t always arise due to trauma or certain life events, sometimes you can experience it when something in your life is making you unhappy, for example, a particular job, environment or even person. In this case, the best thing you can do to ease your stress is to address what is causing it and find a way to make it more manageable. Whilst this is easier said than done, you don’t have to rush into making any drastic decisions. Sometimes, by acknowledging exactly what is making you stressed, and talking to someone about it, you can find a way to improve your wellbeing.
c h a n g e h o w y o u r e a c t t o i t
I can’t claim to be an expert at this because believe me, I’m not. I fully understand how difficult it can be to change the way you perceive certain situations, when for so long you’ve been conditioning yourself to react in a way that is not healthy. Don’t you just envy others who remain calm, no matter what? Well, the truth is, we don’t have to envy them because it is in our power to determine how we react. Stressing over things out of your control is so exhausting, so the next time you find yourself bubbling up inside, just remind yourself that you are in control and you don’t have to make yourself sick with worry.
l o o k a f t e r y o u r s e l f
There has been so much talk about self-care over the past year or so, and too right because it’s important for our emotional and mental health. When we’re stressed, it’s very common for many of us to not look after ourselves properly. We avoid exercise, eat junk food, go to bed late because, in the moment, it provides us with temporary relief, but that does not mean it’s healthy. Plus, being inactive and eating an unhealthy diet can make you feel worse about yourself, creating more stress which you are trying to avoid. Yes, it is a difficult cycle to break, but it certainly is possible. Feed your body with the nutrients it needs, walk outside in the fresh air (preferably in the country) and be mindful of how you are treating yourself. Doing so, you’ll feel better about yourself and you’ll be in the right frame of mind to tackle stress.
t a l k t o s o m e o n e
Talking is one of the best therapies. Not only does it take the weight off your chest, it also helps you to understand how you are feeling, simply by saying it out loud. Of course, you don’t have to talk to anyone if you don’t feel comfortable, but even talking to yourself in private can make a difference. I’m sure we all do it anyway. If you do want to talk to someone, find someone you trust and who you know will listen without judgment. This could be a friend, family member, doctor or therapist. We all go through difficult periods, so it’s most likely that others understand how you are feeling, which is always comforting to know.
a l l o w y o u r s e l f t o r e s t
As tempting as it is to ignore any feelings of stress, sometimes you have to stop and say enough is enough. Whether that means taking an hour, a day, or longer to rest and get yourself back on track, it has to be done. Ignoring problems only makes them worse, so don’t feel guilty to admit that you need time for yourself. I’ll hold my hands up and say I’ve felt guilty for letting others down, but health is your wealth, so make looking after yourself a priority once in a while.
l a u g h u n t i l i t h u r t s
(e v e n i f y o u ‘ r e f a k i n g i t)
Laughter is a positive way to relieve stress as it can do wonders for physical changes in your body. Not only does it help to increase your intake of oxygen, helping to stimulate your heart, lungs, and muscles, it also stimulates circulation and aids in muscle relaxation, all of which eases the symptoms of stress. Just like exercise, laughing sends signals to your brain to release endorphins making you feel like you’re on a natural high. Laughter can be found anywhere; you don’t always have to watch hours of comedy to feel the benefits. In fact, even forced laughter tricks your brain into thinking it’s real, so you’ll still experience the positive effects.
How do you manage stress when it becomes too much?