Stress is a natural response when ultimately, we're not ok, but what happens when we’re faced with daily challenges and experiencing the Stress Reaction often?
Right now many of us are feeling the pressure from all sides. Demands to be on top of things at work and at home, with very little break away time, can certainly amount to feeling stresses and anxious.
We know that when we’re feeling the strain, we can go into ‘fight or flight’ mode, the body’s natural threat response to feeling unsafe. Our ability to think clearly takes a back seat - essentially, because our brain is designed to make quick decisions, not good ones. So we say things we don’t mean, or behave in a way that we then regret. We can feel as if we aren't in control of ourselves, which in itself is fear inducing.
We know the ‘fight or flight’ response has a purpose though. It’s there to keep us safe, and help us burn off the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, that flood our body when we feel under threat. However in this modern day many perceived threats don't call for the typical physical response to run away or to fight, so the stress and it's unhelpful hormones stay in the body, which can then take its toll and leave us feeling pretty crappy, especially when challenges are constant and levels increase.
Thankfully, we can do something about it! Here are a few of my top tips for when the Stress Reactions hits:
1) Breathe Breathe Breathe!
I cannot stress the power of the breath enough in stablising the nervous system when 'stressing out'. We know that when we are stressed our breathing changes and we lose the healthy balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide, so focusing on the breath can help you to reduce some of the physical changes and feel more in control. I recommend Dr. Andrew Weil's 4-7-8 breathing technique.
Close your mouth and inhale softly through your nose to a mental count of 4.
Hold your breath for a count of 7. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of 8.
Extending the exhale (breathing out for longer) activates the relaxation response and allows the body time to readjust.
If you are unable to hold your breath for long enough then start with a shorter pattern such as 2-4-5 and build up the time with 2 short daily practices.
2) Become Aware of How You Respond. Are you fully aware of what you do when you experience stress? Many of us simply react but by becoming aware of your habitual coping strategies (reactions) you can see whether they are truly helpful or perhaps actually maintaining anxiety. By doing this you can then consider more helpful ways to respond next time you feel stressed, anxious or overwhelmed. We work on this a lot throughout the 8 Week MBCT Course, you can find out more about the next course at www.happyhealthycbt.com/mbct
3) Shake It Off. Movement is proven to help reduce anxiety when experiencing the stress response. Remember I said earlier in this article that we need to burn off the stress hormones to stabalise our system? Whilst exercise is great for this, funnily enough many of us don't fancy running 5k when we are feeling sick, anxious and out of control but thankfully there are plenty of other options to get moving.
Get up and shake it off, shaking out each limb fully and having a wiggle. Put some music on and dance around, getting the body moving and the heart rate pumping for good reason until you feel the stress subside and notice a smile!
A final point to leave you with, remember that the Stress Reaction will not kill you! It may seem overwhelming and scary but it's your thoughts of a perceived threat that have triggered the alarm off and with patience and helpful techniques you can change this.