Managing stress and maintaining health

Managing stress and maintaining health

Our body has been designed to protect us for survival. Our ancestors had this mechanism to deal with danger and keep safe, and we have inherited it. Our body reacts when it notices that our demands exceed our resources, releasing the stress hormone cortisol. Our body responds by tensing up muscles and increasing heart rate so that more blood circulates through our system to release energy and make it available to deal with the challenge we are facing.

Chronic stress is harmful as it suppresses our immune system making us more vulnerable to illnesses. It is essential to manage stress symptoms early to reduce their adverse effects on our health (Sapolsky, 2004).

In the modern world, for the most part, we are not in danger like our ancestors. However, we experience stress symptoms when we have more demands than resources. For example, when we feel we have a lot of work and feel exhausted, or when we do not have control or are unsure how to complete a task when worrying about possible adverse outcomes or having financial concerns.

We all experience stress sometimes – it is part of life. New research indicates that if we change how we view stress (in the short term), we can change how our minds and bodies react. However, it is essential to restore energy daily to maintain health and wellbeing (McGonigal, 2015).

We can reframe how we interpret our stress symptoms and view them as physiological reactions. Therefore, we can view these as signals that our body produces extra energy to deal with the challenge. This approach allows us to consider alternative ways of interpreting external events and our internal experience, helping us identify ways of dealing with challenging situations.

Strategies to restore balance

Take breaks: Our body is working hard to protect us and, therefore, uses a lot of energy. To maintain our energy level, we need to make sure that we restore our energy during the day. Taking time away from computers is essential to prevent eye strain. It is also beneficial to move and stretch. Whenever possible, and depending on circumstances, creating time to reflect will help to restore energy. Movement is the most effective antidote to managing and preventing the adverse effects of stress (Ratey & Hagerman, 2010).

Focus on what you can control: When feeling that there is too much to do, identify what is not within your control. Then, focus on those things you can do something about, and start on a small task. Often, we feel tense because it is challenging to deal with uncertainty and thoughts about possible adverse outcomes. In these situations, it is helpful to become aware that we are focused on these repetitive thoughts and ask, “Are these thought helpful?” No, they are not.” These are fleeting thoughts. We can imagine them to be just like clouds in the sky that float by with the wind.

Practice self-care: our body functions best when we maintain a routine, eat well, and protect our sleep time. It helps to keep our immune system healthy (Macciochi, 2020). Sleep is essential to restore energy, and it supports our cognitive functions so we can work well and feel well (Walker, 2014).

Practice self-compassion: When we acknowledge our humanity, we can be more understanding of ourselves and others. An empathic approach helps to manage the inner critic and allows us to tolerate mistakes or when things do not work out as we hoped. It is helpful to adopt the same attitude we have when we support our best friends – we are understanding and supportive, which helps to get through difficult situations (Gilbert, 2010).

It is also helpful to write down our thoughts. Writing helps to process our thoughts and feelings, and it can help to clarify our concerns. Research shows that it can reduce tension, and people can start exploring options for managing the situation (Pennebaker, 2014).

Connect with others: When stressed, we may have the tendency to isolate ourselves, which makes things worse. Instead, reaching out to others will help to restore a sense of connection. We have an innate drive to be social and engage with others. When we talk with others and feel listened to, it helps restore our energy, and we gradually start to feel better.

“Like tiny seeds with potent power to push through tough ground and become mighty trees, we hold innate reserves of unimaginable strength. We are resilient.” (Catherine DeVrye)

 

 

 

 

References:

Gilbert, P. (2010) The compassionate mind. London: Constable & Robinson, Ltd.

Macciochi, J. (2020) Immunity. The science of staying well. London: Thorsons.

McGonigal, K. (2015) The upside of stress. Why stress is good for you (and how to get good at it). London: Vermilion.

Pennebaker, J. (2014) Expressive writing: words that heal. Washington: Idyll Arbor, Inc.

Ratey, J. & Hagerman, E. (2010) Spark. How exercise will improve the performance of your brain. London: Quercus.

Sapolsky, R. (2004) Why zebras don’t get ulcers. The acclaimed guide to stress, stress-related diseases, and coping. Revised and updated. New York: Hold Paperbacks.

Walker, M. (2014) Why we sleep. London: Penguin, Random House.

 

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