We can all agree that life is challenging. How we deal with stress can impact our overall well-being. When we adopt healthy ways of managing the difficulties that life has in store for us, we are able to reap long-term benefits. In contrast, using unhealthy coping strategies such as drug or alcohol use, overeating, procrastination, sleeping too much or too little, social withdrawal, self-harm, may provide instant gratification, but can have negative long-term consequences.
To understand how we must understand how our body responds to stress.
Adopting a holistic approach to wellness that considers our physical, cognitive, emotional, spiritual and social health will help restore balance in our lives once again.
Physically Responding to Stress
Stress is a physiological response. Our nervous system is equipped to handle stress and, with proper support, to release it and return to a state of calm and regulation. When we are not well-regulated, our physical bodies often give us the first signals.
Here are some techniques to help physical stress:
Breathing is a simple and powerful way to release your tension. When we are stressed our breathing pattern changes. By consciously making use of a more relaxed breathing pattern, you will induce a more relaxed physical state.
Intentionally stretching, opening, and loosening our body helps our nervous system shift out of this stress response. When under stress, our bodies contract and become tight. It is the way our bodies prepare to physically manage the situation.
Exercise releases endorphins which make is feel good. Incorporating walks into your daily routine can do wonders for stress management as well as physical health.
Cognitively Responding to Stress
In stressful situations it is easy to succumb to thinking in extremes. These unhealthy patterns of thinking tend to reinforce themselves. The more often we fall into them, the more quickly they surface in times of stress.
Here are some techniques to help our cognition:
Journaling involves writing down your thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Assigning words to an experience can provide insight and clarity. Sections in your journal may be about different things. For example, you might categorize your journal into areas such as, venting, reflecting, planning, visualizing, and gratitude.
Reframing is recasting your experiences in a positive manner. In order to actively manage stress, we need to be able to identify negative thought patterns attached to particular stressors and identify any positives that we may be overlooking. Reframing includes identifying the situation from realistic and positive perspectives, naming what you can do to influence the situation, and taking personal responsibility for your situation.
For Example: It is a very busy time at work and you are overwhelmed. You reframe the situation and tell yourself that you will do your best, work efficiently, and feel good about what you do accomplish, rather than focusing on what is not done.
Emotional Responses to Stress
Emotions are our compass, signalling to us when something is important either because it involves a threat to our well-being, is tapping into our values, or connects with our passions and dreams. Being able to tune in, feel, be curious, and put expression to emotions helps us use the signal to focus our attention on what we are needing in the moment.
Consider what your emotions are alerting you to and what steps are needed. If we attend non-anxiously to our emotions, they will move and guide us. Some possible needs your emotions can be drawing attention to:
- Acknowledgement of the impact of an experience – loss, regret, anger, disappointment, hopefulness, gratitude, etc.
- Stronger boundaries – do you need to adjust your expectations of someone or request they adjust their expectations of you?
- Conflict – have you felt wronged, misunderstood, mistreated in some way? Do you need to express yourself?
- Need for support around something you are going through – are you feeling alone and overwhelmed with a task or situation? Can you ask for help?
Emotions are not “good” or “bad.” Learn more about managing your emotions in this blog.
Social Responses to Stress
A healthy social support net is a key ingredient to our overall wellness. As social animals, we all do best in connection with others, with supports we can lean on and also offer back. Making yourself aware and reflective about who and when we connect with others is a powerful part of self-care.
Take some time to make a list or map of people and groups who are part of your world, including those you have regular contact with as well as those you know who are there but you may see or speak to less often. Then determine how supportive they are of you and which relationships you would like to put more energy into, end or change.
Communicating your needs and boundaries is important. Consider whether there are people in your life who take advance or ask too much of your resources or energy. Establish what you should say or do to communicate your preferred boundary.
Spiritual Responses to Stress
It can be helpful to pay intentional attention to our evolving sense of purpose and place within the broader whole of life. This is one way to define a spiritual dimension to wellness. It involves our internal beliefs and values as well as how we connect to something bigger than just us – a sense of purpose, connection, and community.
Try prayer, meditation, mindfulness and relaxation techniques to help focus your thoughts and find peace of mind.