I’m not sure when or where this concept of stress being a by-product of our busy lives started. It’s almost as though some people wear it as a badge of honour.
“I’m stressed, which means life is busy; if life is busy, I must be successful. If I’m successful, I must be happy.”
This may seem a little extreme, but think about how often you ask someone how they are, and their answer is “busy”. What if we told someone we’re feeling relaxed, calm and dare I say it, even bored? Despite all the national awareness days for mental health and the increased conversation around mindfulness and wellness, the status of success these days according to society seems intrinsically linked to being busy and to being stressed.
Stress isn’t just a feeling – it’s a physical reaction
Stress starts with a thought in the brain, but it can be felt as an emotion such as anxiety, frustration, anger, guilt, shame, worry and a host of other feelings that tell us we’re not happy. That we’re pushing our minds, our hearts and our bodies beyond reasonable expectations. And that therein lies a major problem about stress. It really does push our body into realms that we just weren’t built for. Prolonged stress can manifest into physical reactions including:
- Cramps, nausea, diarrhea or constipation
- Aches and pains
- Low energy or libido
- Sweating or clammy skin
- Change in appetite (increased or decreased)
More severe cases of illnesses that can be linked to stress include ulcers, obesity, shingles, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and even cancer according to some medical practitioners.
Stress is certainly not something to take lightly, and nor should it be commonplace in our lives. It’s okay to be quiet, tranquil and yes, even bored. It’s okay that you’ve decided not to go to the neighbour’s party – not because you have conflicting events, but because you’d rather just be at home. And it’s okay to Click and Collect your groceries or order Uber Eats. You’re not lazy, you’ve prioritised your time. We really don’t have to be go, go, go all the time. Digital technology has made us a 24/7 world, but our bodies still need rest and deep sleep to recharge and refuel.
How to minimise stress
Knowing that stress is bad for you, and actually minimising or removing it are two very different things. And if you’re feeling stressed right now, it won’t just go away overnight; but there are activities you can do to start ensuring stress doesn’t rule or ruin your life.
Everyone will respond to stress reduction strategies in different ways, just as they experience stress in unique ways. But try at least three things on this list – they’re all free, but stress on the other hand can be very expensive, so it’s worth the investment of time now.
- Engage in short periods of focused breathing to reset your mind and body in a matter of moments. Try this video for an introduction breathing session or download any number of the podcasts available on the subject.
- Get your body physically moving to get the blood flowing and oxygen pumping through your lungs. It might be a short stroll in your lunch break, taking the stairs instead of the lift, or your favourite boxing or yoga session at the gym.
- Imagine life without this current stress in your life. Visualisation is very powerful. Now ask yourself how you can start to chip away at the areas causing you stress ie. What exactly are you feeling? Why is this situation bothering you? What can you do within your control about the situation? Sometimes we hold onto stress because we don’t want to face the action that will move us away from it. We might be embarrassed to confess our part in the situation, it may scare us to make the call or meet with someone to iron out the issues, but just by addressing the problem we can start to diffuse it.
- Talk about your stress to a loved one, a trusted colleague, a GP or a counsellor. There is truth in the old saying, “a problem shared is a problem halved” because a different perspective can offer new ideas and solutions. People often talk about a weight being lifted and feeling lighter after discussing their stress with someone.
If you’re stressed with work, relationships, friendships, money, moving house, getting divorced, getting married or buying a house (yes, happy times can still be stressful!), then I encourage to you try the above tactics to start to lighten the burden.
If you’re not feeling stressed right now, please don’t ignore the messages in this article, assuming they don’t apply to you. Stress can creep up and manifest itself in a number of ways before you even know what’s hit you. Make time now for you, by choice; otherwise one day you might be making time for you by forced bed rest at doctor’s orders.