It's not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it. -Hans Selye
Stress is a regular part of day-to-day life, whether we like it or not.
However, how we respond to it and how much we let it run our lives is completely in our control.
Proper stress management techniques can actually reduce the body’s biological response to stress.
This, in turn, enables us to remain productive and focus on getting to the other side more quickly.
What is stress?
The feeling we commonly refer to as stress is a chemical reaction in the body that results in emotions such as anxiety, overwhelm, fear or worry.
Put simply, stress is the result of anything we perceive to be harmful to our well-being.
The feeling of stress is the result of the body reacting to a negative event.
When we react to a stressor, our bodies release stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.
These hormones cause our heart rates to increase, our muscles to tense and our breathing to quicken.
This is all so that we can respond to the source of danger.
Unfortunately, the stress response has not evolved much over time and is triggered often by our fast-paced and full lives.
Stress makes it difficult to sleep, exacerbates mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, and can contribute to chronic illness.
Effective stress management
Fortunately, there are a number of techniques that can be used to regulate the stress response in the body.
These tools can be helpful to restore a state of calm as we continue to juggle the demands of career, family and well-being.
Meditation may be one of the single-most effective tools for combatting stress.
This is because it is essentially training in tuning out mental chatter so that you can find the calm, centered core of yourself.
With regular practice, quieting your mind will first become easy in isolated settings.
Then, the benefits will topple over into your everyday life.
As stress arises, your heightened mental awareness will allow you to focus on your breathing and access calm.
You can also practice different types of meditation to help achieve calm.
Guided meditations in which you focus on the core of an issue at hand and help visualize the solution and outcome can be especially effective.
Exercise has also been proven to help reduce feelings of stress.
Moving the body helps to release endorphins, which are natural chemicals in the body that promote a feeling of well-being.
Exercise helps to relieve physical tension, promotes better sleep and stabilizes mood.
Physical activity can also help to reduce the impact of future stressors by improving cognitive function and increasing the ability to concentrate.
In order to reap the benefits of physical activity, choose an activity you enjoy, but make sure that it elevates your heart rate.
Maintain the elevated heart rate for at least fifteen minutes to get the endorphins flowing.
3. Taking time to connect
Connecting with friends and family, or even your pet, also helps to release feel-good chemicals in the body.
Eating a meal slowly with loved ones, finding time to spend with your partner, or to mindfully pet your dog, increases levels of the hormone oxytocin.
This improves your feeling of overall well-being and promotes a sense of calm.
4. Writing or reading
When in a state of stress, our minds can often run away with us as we focus on what could possibly go wrong and all of the things we have to do.
Getting these thoughts down onto paper can help to sort through them, and to get to the root cause of the issue.
This also provides an opportunity to practice single-pointed focus and get into the present moment, reducing feelings of stress.
Reading can also have a similar effect by demanding our full attention.
Reading fiction in particular is beneficial because it gets our mind to start envisioning what we are reading.
In fact, mindful reading has been shown to have some of the same health benefits as meditation.
5. Taking one step at a time
When all else fails, remember to focus on the present moment and take one step at a time.
Acute stress can cause a tailspin of worry and anxiety.
Instead of worrying about the future, bring your attention to the present moment and ask yourself what the next logical step is to help manage the situation at hand.
Once you have completed that step, look to the next one.
Attempting to do too many things at once will only further contribute to feelings of overwhelm, so start slow and keep it simple!
Stress is impossible to eliminate, but it can be managed!
Consistently practicing stress management techniques will make it easier to handle stress over time, and will ultimately reduce the extent of your biological stress response, helping you achieve greater resilience and a calmer life!
About the author
Janice has a wealth of experience and training.
She holds a Diploma of Education, Bachelor of Arts (Psychology), Master of Arts (Counselling), Diploma of Clinical Hypnotherapy (ASH) and is a Registered Psychologist at Psychologists Southern Sydney.
She’s also a member of the Australian Psychological Society.