Stress! We’ve all experienced it, sometimes as a short, sharp burst like when you’re rushing to meet a deadline; and sometimes for a longer period, like when your workplace is perpetually understaffed or you’re supporting a sick relative.
Stress is an inevitable part of life and that’s ok because sometimes it’s what motivates us to get things done. But chronic, unrelenting stress can have negative consequences for your physical and mental health.
Stress or anxiety causes your body to release hormones that have the effect of preparing you for ‘fight or flight’. This means your heart rate and blood pressure increase, blood flows away from essential organs to your arms and legs, and “non-essential” physiological functions (such as reproduction and digestion) shut down. Chronic stress can cause headaches, stomach aches, digestive issues, weight gain, fatigue and insomnia.
In our cave-people days, our physiological stress response was handy for survival. These days, we are not so much in danger of being eaten, but we are constantly juggling commitments, dealing with complex relationships, worrying about finances and racing to meet deadlines.
In addition to the negative effects of too many stress hormones flooding your body, the coping strategies we use to manage stress – such as eating sugary foods or drinking alcohol – can also contribute to health problems. So how do we keep stress under control?
Here are some ideas that might be helpful:
Create a Not Do list
If you’re chronically busy and never getting to the end of your To Do list, perhaps it’s time to write a Not Do List and offload a bunch of ‘urgent but unimportant’ tasks. Realistically appraise your current commitments and obligations and delete anything that is creating undue stress in your life. Breathe a sigh of relief as you feel the weight lift.
We think we’re so clever with our multi-tasking but the truth is there is no such thing. What we are actually doing is switching between tasks and every time we do, it takes longer to re-focus our attention on what we were doing, wasting precious time and mental energy. It’s time to re-learn the lost art of ‘mono-tasking’ i.e., putting your full attention on one thing at a time. Turn off email notifications and put your phone away while you focus on getting that report written. Notice other ways you are splitting your attention and work hard to keep your mind on just one thing.
Nurture positive relationships
Social hostility is major cause of stress, whether it’s an argument with your spouse or a falling-out with a friend or colleague. Do what you can to let go of negative, toxic relationships and put your energy into nurturing positive connections with people who support you. Social support is a great buffer against stress. Make time to be with your people and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Change your self-talk
Sometimes your own self-talk adds more distress to an already stressful situation. Saying things to yourself like, “It’s too much. I’ll never get it done” causes a stress reaction in your body. Similarly self-criticism only adds to an already difficult situation. Try being a bit more positive and optimistic, e.g., “This too shall pass.”
Deep diaphragmatic breathing (belly breathing) activates the parasympathetic nervous system and induces the relaxation response in your body which is a counter to the stress response. Take time out of your busy day to take full deep breaths and feel your body relax. You might go one better and incorporate daily mediation into your routine, as there is ample research to support its positive physical and emotional benefits, including reducing stress, anxiety and depression.
Of course one of my favourite stress-busters is practising mindfulness and that’s why I created my 8-week online course Mindfulness for Busy People. If you’re keen to find out more or get on the waitlist to be first to hear when the doors open, you can do that HERE.