Do You Stress Over Stress?

A recent survey from The Mental Health Foundation found that in the past year 74% of people feel they have felt so stressed that they’ve been overwhelmed and unable to cope.

We caught up with life coach and psychotherapeutic counsellor, Chanelle Sowden who shares her top coping mechanism when under pressure…

 

Are you actually 'Stressed'?

Stress’ is perhaps one of our most overused words to describe how we’re feeling in times of difficulty, and yet there is no medical definition to pin down exactly what it means. It is likely that even though so many of us use the word, we may be referring to very different experiences or levels of discomfort. Most definitions or explanations involve terms such as emotional strain, physical bodily tension or mental pressure. When you (or someone else) feels ‘stressed’ I would encourage you to explore some more about what that specifically looks like or feels like in that moment.

 

Stress affects the body as well as the mind

Stress can affect any and all aspects of your life from your mood, motivation, thinking ability, judgement, reactions, eating habits, breathing pattern, sleep, heart rate, physical health and muscle tension. When your body goes into a state of stress, whether the threat is real and dangerous or only perceived your brain and nervous system respond very similarly. Chemicals are released to increase your chances of survival in an unsafe environment. This state is meant to be infrequent and only for short spells of time. In small doses, stress can help you act impulsively to save yourself, put down boundaries or scare off threats. Experiencing stress over long periods of time, however, is very damaging to our mental and physical health and can cause us to react inappropriately to external events.

 

There is a difference between Stress and Anxiety

The lines between stress and anxiety do cross over however, stress is usually an explainable, justifiable and temporary bodily reaction to a specific external pressure or challenge. If you can identify clearly the cause of your discomfort such as a work deadline then you’re dealing with stress. Anxiety is a much more generalised or even unexplainable feeling of worry or nervousness that won’t necessarily go when a specific pressure has gone.

  

Unusual tips for stress relief

Motivational coach Tony Robbins suggests that ‘Stressed is the over achiever’s word for Fear’. Identify what’s causing you stress, what are you fearing might happen? Fears often benefit from being named as this offers an opportunity for reassurance or a backup plan. Reframing the situation this way may help reduce the chances of the fearful thing happening and therefore reduce the stress.

Change your language. Over time our language directs our thoughts and perceptions. For example, does it feel different to say ‘I am interested to see how my interview goes this afternoon’ compared to ‘I am stressed over how my interview will go this afternoon’?

It gets said a lot but one of, if not THE best practice for stress relief is to focus on your breathing. If possible take yourself away and take some time to become present and in your body. Any type of fear takes us outside of ourselves and this is when we can lose control and our effectiveness.

 

Stress can sometimes be good for us

If we think of stress as pressure, then we could consider that sometimes it is the pressure that pushes us out of our comfort zone and facilitates growth. Providing that the stress is not prolonged or seriously impacting our nervous system or healthy habits such as sleep patterns or appetite, stress may not necessarily be too harmful.

 

Do we perform better under pressure? Make better decisions? Thrive in competitiveness?

We are all so different when it comes to these questions, the key is to look honestly and specifically at what’s working for you and what isn’t.

We each run different stories in our head that influence our personal relationship to stress. What are the messages you might have picked up in your family when you were growing up about stress? Were you discouraged from pushing yourself or taking risks? Were high levels of stress normal and just something to endure? What are your patterns with stress now? Could you perhaps push yourself a little harder? Is your body showing signs of exhaustion? It’s important that we do what’s best for us, our body is usually our clearest indicator of what that might be.

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