The Secret's To Less Stress
Stress, it’s not an uncommon experience. It’s something most of us can say we have experienced at one point or another in our lives.
Dictionaries often define stress as “physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension” or “a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize."
The key thing to note from this definition, is that when we don’t have the necessary internal and external supports in our environment, it’s at this point that the demands placed on us become too much, HELLO STRESS.
There’s also whole list of things that can trigger or contribute to stress.
Our relationships with others, work or study,Illness or coping with it, major life changes or new stages of life, divorce, marriage, moving, new jobs or retirement to name a few general day to day activities.
Events that might require a great deal of organization and planning. E.g. Planning a holiday, travel or a wedding,Juggling, having to hold multiple tasks and roles at the same time.
The symptoms of stress are varied, from emotional to physical, and they all affect the quality of our life. Usually we try and cope with stress ourselves in different ways.
Sometimes the way we handle stress can be effective. We put into practice strategies or supports that are of benefit to us. Other times we can get stuck in handling stress by using some fixed ways of being that don’t serve us. Maybe its eating emotionally (family blocks of cadbury chocolate used to be my go to) or using alcohol (a bottle of wine a night is fine right?) or even de-sensitizing our feelings all together and focusing on work or other activities without addressing what’s causing us stress.
I want to share 4 effective ways you can use to help you stress less, and get some clarity around where you might be at.
1. LEARN TO USE YOUR BRAIN
At the extreme end of feeling stressed we can experience emotional responses that can feel overwhelming. This is because one part of the stimulus goes to the amygdala (this small almond shape part of our brain that plays a major role in our decision making and emotional reactions.) If our previous experiences stored in the hippo campus (the part of the brain responsible for consolidating short and long term memory) trigger that this response is a dangerous one from our previous experience, it tells its friend the amygdala…When this happens it means our emotional memory, lodged in the limbic centre of our brain can rule our reactions BOOM - Amygdala hijack: The rational brain (Hypothalamic – pituitary –adrenal) brain is hijacked and we experience a fight or flight mode AKA Eat or be eaten.
Want to understand what’s happening for you? Give therapy a go!
Therapy can be an effective form of treating stress, as you become more aware of how they think, feel and act in the present moment, you can gain insight into ways in which you can alleviate stress as well as learn to change negative thought patterns that develop as a result of stress, and to find new ways of thinking about stressful events.
I was once told that all we need to do each day is to get up and breathe. Isn’t that true in a totally simple way? If we just breathe, we keep going. When you’re feeling stressed, BREATHE.
Scientifically though deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. When activated this immediately lowers stress. The Yogis have known for a long time that this simple and brief method is so powerful for most people. It works because deep, long inhalations expand your bronchioles: the passageways in your lungs to the tiny alveoli where oxygen enters the blood and carbon dioxide leaves it.
The PNS is in charge of constricting the bronchioles, so by making them swell up with a big breath, you trigger the PNS to bring them back to their “resting”
Take a moment to activate the parasympathetic nervous system through the use of deep full breaths. Here’s a quick exercise you can try when you’re feeling stresses.
Sit quietly with your eyes closed and focus on your breathing.
Relax your tongue
Relax your eyes
Relax the diaphragm area
Imagine being in a very comfortable setting
Feel everything draining out of you and sinking deep into the earth
Inhale, fill your lungs fully, hold for a second or so, and then exhale (focus on relaxing). Try breathing in this way for 60 seconds. REPEAT as often as needed.
3. ASK, WHATS GREAT ABOUT THIS SITUATION AND WHAT CAN I LEARN FROM IT?
This sounds contrary to what you probably want to do. What could possibly be good about feeling stressed? What I want you to ask is what is situation is showing me and what can I learn from it? If we start to look at our experiences ( stressful as they may be) as an opportunity for growth and development we can start to focus more on what the possibilities are, rather than getting caught up in the negative downward spiral of accepting stress and choosing to stay stuck with it.
Asking the question above may help you to get more awareness of a situation, help you think about what needs to change and also give you power to see other choices you might not have considered.
4. ASK, WILL THIS MATTER ONE YEAR FROM NOW?
If the answer is no there’s probably a good chance that what you’re feeling may not be as big a deal as you initially thought. Eek – not something you might want to hear.. It often pisses me off when someone asks me this or any other version – e.g. does this really matter? I get really clear on the big picture – and you know what – often it doesn’t matter, not even a tiny little bit.
So next time, ask this question to put things into perspective. Remind yourself that we experience each moment as it arrives and this means that in each moment our experience can also be different. We are changing moment to moment and so is our experience.
There is a range of practical tools and supports that can be used to manage stress in our lives. No this post is not the magic pill to fixing stress, this won’t be all you need to do and yes it is hard to change your thoughts and behaviours when you’re feeling stressed.
I can’t highly recommend enough to do the work of personal therapy for your own personal growth and development and additionally having a trusted support to be able to confide in and work through any issues that might be coming up for you or causing you stress.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my take on how to stress less!
You can also watch this short video on Youtube where I discuss how to reduce stress with Clinical Nutritionist Alison Jones.
Natajsa Wagner is a Clinical Psychotherapist in Private Practice working with individuals, couples and groups. Natajsa is an advocate for authentic conversations that connect us. Natajsa believes that the relationship we have with ourselves and others is the essential ingredient to our emotional health, happiness and wellbeing.
Natajsa is passionate about speaking and teaching on the topic of moving from loneliness to belonging and the importance of human relationships. Her focus is on helping people develop self-awareness and understanding of our challenges, so we can create change that leads to more fulfilling and meaningful lives. Natajsa has been featured as an expert both locally and internationally and has contributed to a number of print and online media outlets including Women's Health and Fitness Magazine, Cosmopolitan Magazine & ABC Online.