Stress and anxiety may seem like the least natural thing you are feeling these days but it is not only natural, it’s even healthy at times.
When you feel stress or anxiety, it is a part of the fight or flight response to perceiving a threat. The purpose in this heightened state is to increase focus and alertness to deal with the perceived threat. These things are stressful but they do not necessarily put you in an immediate state of danger.
The challenge is that your beautiful brain doesn’t distinguish between a threat of “car is about to crash” or “report is due tomorrow”. It’s all the same.
Whichever circumstance elicits the ‘stress’, the brain responds the same way. Stress hormones are released, the heart beats faster, more blood flows to your organs and limbs, you may start to breathe faster and shallower, your blood pressure goes up, and your senses become sharper (which is why noises may seem so loud). All of this happens in seconds. And once the stressor/threat is perceived….the process can’t be stopped. Ugh, I know this is frustrating but the good news is that it can be mitigated and interrupted.
Interrupting the stress response is key to limiting the effects of chronic stress. And there are lots of ways we can do this.
Here a few ways you can decrease your stress today:
Deep breathing. Yes, I know it sounds so boring! That’s the point. To help your nervous system regulate and convince your brain that the ‘danger’ is manageable, all you need to do is engage in intentional deep breathing. A classic method is breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 7, then breathe out for 8. Try this and see how you feel.
Mindfulness activities. The more you consciously become aware of your surroundings and take in sights and sounds around you, the more signals you send to your brain that you are safe and secure.
Check-in with yourself on a regular basis. This can be done in whatever way makes most sense to you. It can be you actually saying out loud, “Hey Sam, how you doing today?” Or it can be taking a moment and rate 0-5 how well your day is going so far, figuring out what you want to do to keep it going well or what you can do to make it better. Notice that this is all about what YOU can do, not how other people can help make it better. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone else would get their stuff together and be a little compassionate towards you? Yes! That would be splendid, but unfortunately if we wait for that….we may end up severely disappointed. Instead, it’s best to take control for ourselves and figure out how we can meet our own needs.
Sleep. Yep, good old fashioned sleep. If you haven’t been getting enough sleep lately, it’s like keeping your stress level humming along all night long. I can’t stress enough the importance of sleep, but the research backs me up; sleep is one of the most important things we can do for our mental and physical health.
Connect with others. It can be tempting to recoil to your private space and thoughts and keep people out. And I get it that sometimes everyone is just on your nerves. I’m not suggesting you go out and be a social butterfly today, but identify at least one person you feel close to and reach out. Connection with others is a significant contributing factor in overwhelming sense of well-being.