How stress affects your body and mind
Stress is the response to emotional pressure… over which an individual perceives he or she has no control. It involves an endocrine system response in which occurs a release of corticosteroids. (Wikipedia)
Stress is our body’s natural reaction to situations experienced in every-day life. Triggers of stress range from responsibilities at work and home, relationship or family difficulties, money problems, grief and illness. When we are stressed, a cocktail of hormones is released into our bloodstream, breathing and heart rate increases, muscles become tense and you begin to sweat.
Mental stress affects people from all walks of life. We react to mental stress as we would to physical threat. Instinct drives us to prepare a perceived threat to protect us against danger. For example, as the mind processes a threat of criticism from someone else, your body reacts as if there is a physical threat and the basic fight or flight response begins. The reactions of the body are the same but as there is no need to run and escape and excess energy builds up within.
That is why we react with aggressions or irritability, lashing out, throwing things, slamming doors, shouting. It’s our body’s way of releasing built up tension and energy.
It is important to remember that stress is a very common problem that people hide well. To gain control over your thoughts and your life, you need to be in control of high levels of stress and bring down to a more manageable level.
How to take control of the stress in your life
We can experience high levels of stress as we try to keep afloat in the crazy fast paced world we live. You no doubt know what it’s like, a long list of things to do, too many responsibilities, attempting to keep fit and healthy. Like ducks, we glide along through life across the water whilst under the surface we are paddling away like mad.
Finding a way to keep going and have a sense of calm can seem impossible but there are ways you can help yourself back to the path of an easier more balanced life.
When you are under stress, you can often feel you are losing control of your life as you lose the ability to focus, make decisions and take action. The first step to reducing stress is to become aware of your level of stress. Next you need to observe what is causing your stress level to rise, then do something about it.
There are techniques and activities that can help you to overcome stress and take control of your thoughts, your actions, and your life. But it is up to you to take responsibility to make a difference.
Let’s look at how to gain a deeper understanding of the way you feel when you are stressed:
- What goes through your mind when you feel stressed?
Do you panic? Become irritable or defensive?
- What self-talk are you aware of you mind?
Do you blame yourself, blame others?
- What reaction does your body have?
Do you feel lethargic, have headaches, stomach upset, an inability to focus?
Write down anything that comes to mind when you answer these questions. Putting things down on paper can help to empty your mind and release some of the built-up tension.
Stress tends to make us exaggerate our problems and things we think are problematic become worse, spiralling out of control. How many times does the question ‘What if…’ pop into your mind? What if this or that happens?
Look back at times when you have worried about something, jot down one or two of these problems. How did things turn out? Were they as bad as you feared?
We all have challenges in life whether its health, relationships, work but most of the time if we are honest with ourselves, life carries on without the things we worry about actually happening. It takes strength and practice to reduce the amount of time we spend worrying and at first you may feel it is impossible to stop worrying even when making a conscious effort.
Thoughts and emotions become strong and build tension because you feel there is nothing you can do about your situation. Irrational thoughts develop from the initial thought with the mind beginning to believe the worse possible scenario is possible.
Symptoms of stress:
- Your mind goes blank
- Fear of criticism
- Lack of clarity
- Unable to relax
- Physically symptoms; headache, stomach upset
Targeting your stress
Using a daily diary to record your stress levels can help you to identify stressors and your reactions. Using a scale of 1-10, 1 being low level stress and 10 being the highest level. Record your stress level and triggers for 4 weeks at the end of each day.
See the Refresh Stress Diary
Each week ask yourself: What have I learned about my stress levels / triggers over this week?
- Is there a pattern?
- What makes your stress level increase?
- How is your body affected?
- What thoughts are going through your mind?
- What do other people notice when you are stressed? (Ask someone you trust)
- How are you affected mentally when you are stressed? (lower confidence, feelings of inadequacy?)
- What can you do to improve the situation?
View completed diary example here
How can you reduce stress?
Delegate – ask people to help at home and at work. When you feel overwhelmed at the number of things you need to do, make a list and see if there are things someone else could do or help you with. Ask your children or spouse to peel the veg for dinner. Ask a colleague to help you with a task you are struggling with. Try not to carry on feeling stressed when there are people around who can help.
Say no – think before committing to more. Do you have time? Are you putting yourself out to help others? Do you think it would be rude to say no even though you are already overwhelmed? If you’re are already up to your neck with things, say you would love to help, attend the event but unfortunately you are already too busy. If others don’t like it that’s their problem not yours. Your problem is stress and you are saying no for the good of your own body and mind.
Practice awareness – Notice when something is affecting you, how you are feeling and think before reacting. Are you thinking rationally? Are you looking for solutions? Are you being influenced by someone else?
Take some time out for yourself – Go for a coffee on your own, turn off your phone and read a book or people watch. Get your nails done. Have a massage. Holistic Therapies like massage, meditation and reiki help to restore the body’s natural harmony enabling you to deal with everyday stresses and strains of life much more efficiently.
Exercise – Go for a long walk or a run. Have a session at the gym. Exercise helps to reduce stress by relieving tension and improving mood. Play sport, the exercise and contact with others can change your mood and make you feel better.
Listen to music – There is music to suit every mood. To lift yourself up, listen to upbeat, joyful music, (stay away from the depressive stuff!). Sing and dance along if circumstances permit.
Cuddle your pet – animals show unconditional love and spending time with them induces calm.
Breathe – sounds obvious but deep, slow breathing can instantly calm you.
I hope you try out some of these techniques to help you focus on creating more calm and happiness in your life. If you have used any of the above, I’d love to hear what worked and how things improved for you.
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