What is stress? Where does it come from and how can we manage it day to day so it doesn’t impact our wellbeing?
In this month’s article for stress awareness month we will begin by taking a look at what stress is, the types and causes of it and how we might be able to manage it. To round off, we offer a grounding technique you can practise at any time you feel overwhelmed by stress or anxiety. We hope it helps.
So, what is stress?
According Oxford Languages the definition of stress is:
“A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.”
Delving deeper into the causes of stress, according to medlineplus.gov, there are two types of stress; Acute and Chronic.
Acute stress: “is short-term stress that goes away quickly. You feel it when you slam on the brakes, have a fight with your partner, or ski down a steep slope. It helps you manage dangerous situations. It also occurs when you do something new or exciting. All people have acute stress at one time or another.”
Chronic stress: “is stress that lasts for a longer period of time. You may have chronic stress if you have money problems, an unhappy marriage, or trouble at work. Any type of stress that goes on for weeks or months is chronic stress. You can become so used to chronic stress that you don't realise it is a problem. If you don't find ways to manage stress, it may lead to health problems.”
We all have demands on our time and our emotions. Our working lives, our personal and family lives and the wider world at large all put mental strain on us at times but it is how we manage that stress and tension that is important.
With what is going on in the world right now you might be feeling particularly overwhelmed with the adverse circumstances that are occurring all around. We have just experienced a global pandemic and now with the war in Ukraine, the world at large is feeling like a frightening place full of uncertainty. The fact is that when it comes to world events and the alarming things we see and hear on the news daily we, as individuals, have little power to change what is happening day to day. And feeling that lack of power is stressful in itself. We want to make it better, we want to act for good and we don’t want to see suffering. But we may feel powerless.
However, I’d like to suggest we look at this in another way. Yes, feeling powerless can lead to feelings of stress, but if we consider it another way we might be able to turn that into a positive. If we recognise that we have no control over a situation then perhaps we can use that to step away from the stress attached to it and focus instead on what we do have control over. We may not individually have the power to stop the war, the spread of Covid or climate change but what we do have is power over how we manage ourselves through these frightening times. How can we keep calm, how can we keep well, how can we continue to be compassionate to others and be kind to all?
Use the circle of control to see where you are focusing. Are you focusing on the outer circle where you have no or little control? If so can you bring yourself to focus on the inner circle, make conscious choices about how you respond and the activities you do.
Kind words, a cup of tea with a friend or a donation of an hour out of your week to a charitable cause may seem trivial compared to world events but the small stuff can have a huge impact on those around us. A simple, selfless kindness in a day can make another person’s experience of the world that bit brighter. There you have succeeded in making the world a better place. In order to be fit to consider others and be ready to help those around you, you need to be in a good mental space, free from unmanageable stress. If we can’t control the big stuff, consider what we can control instead. We can control ourselves, we can manage our own behaviours and we can make a difference to those we interact with. That counts. As we learnt in the definition of chronic stress, not managing stress levels can lead to health problems and if we are not well we can’t function, enjoy life or be there for others. So let’s work on taking care of ourselves and managing our own stress levels first.
If the world agenda is getting you stressed and anxious perhaps step away from the radio and television for a time and try the below technique to calm your senses and ground yourself back to the present moment. Is what’s happening in your control? If the answer is no, perhaps consider what is and take control of what you can; yourself and your own wellbeing. A stressed brain cannot think clearly and an anxious moment can muddle our thoughts.
There are a few calming techniques we like to use in our workshops, team days and talks that can help bring you back to the present moment, relieve stress and anxiety and calm your world down when everything gets a bit much. Below is one of our favourites.
Sit on a backed chair with your feet to the floor.
Close your eyes and feel the chair beneath your body and floor beneath your feet.
Lay your hands gently, palms down on your legs and feel your legs beneath your hands.
Now breathe in through the nose for 7-10 seconds, mindfully and deeply whilst really noticing how the floor and chair feel against your feet and body and your hands against your legs.
Hold your breath for three seconds.
Breath out slowly through your mouth until the whole breath is out.
Repeat three times.