Harness anxious energy as a productive force
Want to ‘beat’ stress? How about working with it for your own benefit?
The ‘S’ word is practically a pandemic in itself these days. And the other pandemic (that word ‘C’) is only serving to exacerbate our levels of anxiety. The great news is that we can intercept the feeling of adrenaline that accompanies stress and channel it into focus.
In this article, Stress Management Advisor and Lan Sabai Tai Chi Instructor Tommy Holgate reveals some facts about stress and offers a series of tips for reducing and managing it in our lives.
- The Oxford English Dictionary says stress is the result of ‘an imbalance between demands and resources’, which would be a feeling of being ‘unable to cope’. The Cambridge English Dictionary says stress occurs ‘when pressure exceeds one’s perceived ability to cope’. A key word here is ‘perceived’ – which relates to ‘what we believe about ourselves and our abilities’.
- There are two types of stress. One is distress, which is a feeling of ‘extreme worry, sadness or pain’. Another is eustress, which is ‘moderate or normal psychological stress interpreted as being beneficial for the experiencer’. A key word here is ‘interpret’. How we interpret stress is what will cause us to enter into the fight or flight response. Distress is linked with flight, while eustress is more likely to cause a fight response, not in a combat sense, but in a way that allows us to steady ourselves with determined focus.
- A key piece of theory has to do with the 4-stage stress cycle. Stress begins with our thoughts. The thoughts that we think in response to a situation will generate the emotion that is experienced in the brain. The emotion in turn will dictate the hormones that are released throughout the body, which will have an effect on the organs. This ill feeling increases the chances of further negative thinking.
- How we respond to situations, relationships and circumstances will affect how stressed we feel. If we can accept the inevitability of change and let go of attachment to the past, it becomes possible to embrace change and use it as fuel for centered presence.
- Five physical symptoms of stress include urinary problems, cardiac discomfort, headaches, abdominal pain, and blushing. Five mental symptoms of stress include irritability, suppressed rage, low self-esteem, oversensitivity and procrastination.
- Communication is important with regards to dealing with stress. The way we communicate, with both ourselves and others, can boost or diminish self-esteem. Being able to speak honestly, without hostility, in a confident manner, helps us to avoid building up a store of pent-up emotions that could create irrational thoughts in the future. Positive self-communication is important because it informs our self-image, which in turn will affect the thoughts we think. This is why affirmations are particularly useful.
- The immune system takes a knock when we succumb to stress. When stressed, the hormone cortisol is released, lowering the number of lymphocytes in circulation, leaving the body more susceptible of falling foul of disease.
- Moving away from hostility, aggression, sarcasm and towards affinity, agreement and empathy is beneficial for effective stress management. Forgiving, letting go, accepting, being grateful and discussing feelings openly all help with handling stress. Blaming other people, using negative language and harboring an attitude of ‘being unable to cope’ are not helpful.
- Physical movement is useful for releasing pent-up emotions from the body, which aids relaxation. Endorphins are released into the bloodstream after exercise, which have a tranquillizing, pain-reducing effect on the body and mind, boosting pleasure and resulting in a feeling of well-being.
- You might have heard people say, when you’re stressed, to “take a deep breath” . Actually, we should take more than one deep breath. Five or six deep breaths, in and out for five or six seconds each, filling the lungs from the bottom up using the diaphragm, will lower the blood pressure immediately. There are many studies now on effective breathing on stress. One published in the Neurological Sciences Journal, found that deep breathing exercises improve mood, lowers the heart rate, cortisol levels and reduces tension. Deep breathing also promotes the ability of the mind and creates a more positive regulation of emotions, making way for conditions in which physical and spiritualhealing can become present.
20 tips for stress reduction …
1. Work no more than ten hours daily.
2. Have at least one and a half days each week away from your normal work routine.
3. Allow at least half an hour for each meal.
4. Eat slowly and chew well.
5. Cultivate the habit of listening to relaxing music.
6. Practice relaxation and / or meditation twice a day, if possible, for 10-15 minutes each time.
7. Actively cultivate the habit of walking, talking and moving at a slower pace.
8. Smile and respond cheerfully whenever meeting anyone.
9. Plan one ‘away from it all’ holiday each year.
10. Take ten minutes daily (or 20 minutes four times weekly) for physical exercise, some of it preferably outdoors, so you get the added benefit of fresh air and a full spectrum of light.
11. Examine your eating pattern and balance your diet.
12. If emotional and / or sexual relationships are upsetting you, seek advice.
13. If you’re unhappy at work, take stock and look at choices (retraining, new areas of work, job agencies etc.)
14. Cultivate a hobby that’s creative rather than competitive (gardening, painting, DIY ) and spend time on it.
15. Have a regular massage or join a yoga class.
16. Concentrate on the present, avoiding the tendency to dwell on past events and future uncertainties.
17. Work and act methodically. Finish one task before starting another.
18. Express your feelings openly, without antagonism or hostility.
19. Don’t accept or set yourself unrealistic deadlines. What can’t be done one day can wait until the next.
20. Don’t rely on drugs, blaming others, or other props in order to cope; accept personal responsibility for your life.