Stress is here to stay. Our stress will not necessarily forevermore be due to Covid-19 concerns, however feeling stress is part and parcel with being human- it is part of the human condition. While that may seem daunting, the reality is some stress is actually good for us. Rather than think of anything stress related as “bad, let’s break stress down into some specifics so we can differentiate the different types of stress to glean greater insight and understanding.
Stress can be chronic or acute. Acute stress is what we are made for. Our brain recognizes an immediate situation that may feel distressing or uncomfortable, however it is temporary, and so are the effects. Someone cuts us off in traffic? Stressful, but 3 hours later we are probably not thinking about it. Our body will still produce stress hormones, and they will spend some time careening through your body. Within 60-90 minutes you will likely experience homeostasis, or balance once again. Humans are built to endure acute stressors pretty well.
Chronic stress on the other hand is the type of stress we feel from a job we don’t like, or a relationship that feels unsafe or unsure. Frequent arguing in a relationship for example is likely to bring on chronic stress. Any stressor that is occurring frequently over a long period of time, will lead to chronic stress.
Additionally, we want to differentiate between good stress, or eustress, and distress. Eustress is the kind of stress we feel when we are challenged and out of our comfort zone. When I jumped out of an airplane my freshman year of college, I experienced a flood of eustress. Distress on the other hand is the stress we feel when we recognize we are feeling stressed out.
Stress is implicated in a host of illnesses and disease. Being in a constant state of stress, sets you up to have health issues like fatigue, inflammation, and a compromised immune system.
Additionally, it is much more likely to interfere with sleep which prompts a whole other cascade of events like brain fog, irritability, weight gain, and more. Stress that starts as something felt emotionally and/or mentally can quickly become something experienced physically as well.
If we are in a constant state of stress, worry or anxiety, we are much more likely to be impatient, hurried, worried, and not present as we ruminate over the stories we tell ourselves that exacerbate our stress levels.
You do not have to live in this worried, stressed out anxious or panicked state. Even now.
In fact, now more than ever, paying attention to your stress levels and incorporating ways to manage them daily is crucial for you to thrive during these stressful times.
Here’s some ideas to get you through. Many of these are born out of my work with clients who have done what I am suggesting and have witnessed the benefit in their life, health relationships and often businesses as well.
1. KNOW THYSELF- Before we realize we are “stressed out” we experienced a trigger. A Stress Trigger can literally be anything you see, read, smell, taste, hear, think, say, or experience. A person, place, or phrase can all be triggers for you. Pay attention to where you were, what you were doing, who was there, what was being talked about, to help you begin to identify YOUR specific triggers.
2. TUNE IN TO YOUR FEELINGS- Notice I didn’t suggest you be ruled by them, rather, pay attention to what you are feeling in the moment. Much like noticing the onset of cold symptoms which allow you to take supplements to ward it off, so it is with increasing awareness of your feelings. Once you have awareness a lot more options will become available to you to handle them appropriately before your primitive brain takes over and reacts.
3.DEEP BREATHE- OFTEN- Most of us are shallow breathers. That often results in not enough oxygen to the brain. If we are going to feel good, and have a well functioning brain we must treat our brain well. That means getting good blood flow and oxygen to it so it can do its job. Make this a practice you do regularly, and utilize it at the first signs of distress.
4. PAY ATTENTION TO PHYSICAL CLUES- Your body regularly sends them. The problem is most of us are running at such a pace, that we tune out and don’t pay attention. Physical signs of distress may be anything from short breaths to holding your breath, tight muscles, clenched fists, tight face or jaw muscles, sweating, shaking, or headache or stomach aches . Any of these can be a warning that something is amiss.
5. GET 7-8 HOURS OF SHUT EYE-Getting enough sleep must be a “fixed brick” in your schedule. Your body and especially your brain will not function properly on anything less. Getting enough sleep ensures your brain has adequate blood flow and oxygen and your immune system won’t be compromised. Remember all those college all nighters ? How soon after that did you come down with a cold or flu? Begin a routine today of same time to bed, and same wake up time. Do not sacrifice sleep as though it is a negotiable.
6. MOVE YOUR BODY DAILY - I have witnessed both for myself and my clients what an enormous difference fitness makes in managing stress. The good news is you don’t have to run a marathon to feel the effects. On the days I wake up thinking the thoughts that don’t serve me well, I start my workout immediately. I know that whether I walk, hike, do yoga, lift weights or dance, that I will feel better during and after my workouts. You don’t have to be the “athletic type” to work out. Just decide what you want to do to begin to move your body, schedule it, grab a buddy to hold you accountable and do it!
7. PRAY, MEDITATE, REFLECT- Generally, I recommend 15 minutes a day or more to take“Cave Time”, which allows you to slow down, unplug, and renew. We all rejuvenate differently so experiment and find what works for you. There are many apps out there which are calming, relaxing and can guide you in a meditation. Prayer is wonderful to connect spiritually and renew your spiritual relationship. Focusing on your faith right now, or perhaps reconnecting spiritually is what we are made for.
Stress is part of the human condition. Some stress is good. Stress can be motivating, or energizing, especially Eustress. However we are not built to carry around a permanent stress load that results in chronic distress. Understanding that your own internal dialogue will either lead you down paths of uncomfortable distress, or can lead you down paths of resilience. You choose.