Stress – what is it, and how can I reduce it?

As a therapist, almost everyone who comes to see me is stressed in some way or another. Just what is stress, and what can we do about it?

Good stress, bad stress
We face various stresses in life – physical, mental, emotional… spiritual even – but what we regularly label as stress is the effect external things have on us. A little bit of stress is good for us – the need to get out of bed and be present somewhere, for example, is a positive pressure which stops us laying in bed all day and gets us up and activating our bodies. Stress of one sort or another has kept us alive for thousands of years, and determined the direction of human development to where we are today – reasoning, capable beings, mostly in charge of our own destiny.

Negative events
However, we generally use the word stress to describe negative events. Life has a way of presenting us with problems we have trouble dealing with based on what we already know. Events similar to something we have already dealt with are familiar - we may remember much of how we dealt with them previously and if that was reasonably effective, we can repeat that process this time. It is the new problems, that we don’t understand, or have to deal with in a limited time or with limited means, which tend to push the stress factor higher.

Although these are often the opportunities for us to grow in some way, they have a habit of turning up when we already feel we have too much to cope with, which simply magnifies their effect. This creates a feeling of pressure, we tend to panic, reducing clear thought, and the problem magnifies even further. This stress causes the body to produce cortisol which, long-term,  can be seriously detrimental to our health, physical and mental.

So what can we do to reduce the stress factor of these situations?

Find perspective
The first is to understand that stress is simply our own personal perspective on what is happening. Driving a car is far less stressful for an experienced driver than for somebody who has only ever been a passenger, even though both may be similar in age, capabilities etc. The difference is in their mental perspective on that situation.

Be calm
Secondly, we can pre-empt the feeling of pressure by learning to be calmer generally. Things like meditation, yoga, tai chi, walking in nature, artistic hobbies etc, all help to slow our mental and physical rhythms, allowing our abstract brain some form of expression and giving our brain ‘space’ to consider sudden new developments. This also helps our bodies produce endorphins, the ‘feel-good’ hormones, which offset cortisol and restore calm and balance.

Ask for help
Thirdly, we often feel we have to deal with problems by ourselves. It is important to understand that everybody is having to deal with some kind of problem in their lives, nobody is immune from potentially stressful situations, so almost anyone is going to be understanding of your situation.

Once we decide to discuss something with another person, we organise the events into a structured sequence in order to convey an intelligible ’story’ and it is often at this point, or during the telling, that we see the flawed sequence which gives us the logical answer. Even if this isn’t the case, you have opened up to somebody else’s ideas of possible solutions, either to the problem itself or to other places to check for answers.

If specialist help is needed, the internet gives us fast, easy access to finding it in our local area.

In summary
Everybody is subject to unscheduled or upsetting events, at some time in their life. The key to those events creating negative stress is in how you react to them. Being inwardly calm – through meditation, exercise, etc – helps massively. Maintaining a perspective on them – it’s only money, at least nobody was hurt, at least we still have x – helps prevent the stress levels rising. Seeking help – finding advice on a specialist website, a quiet chat with a friend, seeing a relevant, qualified therapist – can help you fill in the missing blanks to gain the wider picture and restore perspective.

Often we are stressed from trying to do too many things in too short a time. My favourite phrase to help remind me to step back is that we are human beings, not human doings. Enjoy the being – writing, painting, drawing, meditating, spending time with friends - and the doing will become a lot more enjoyable.

If you would like help with meditating, please contact me.

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