This is something very topical right now and something I’ve been working on with my clients lately so I wanted to share some tips with you too 😀
Before we get there though, I want to quickly recap what stress is, why you should care about it and then share some tips on how to manage it/relieve it.
So…. what is stress?
Put simply, it’s your body’s response to a pressure situation of some kind. What that pressure looks like exactly depends on the person (as with a lot of things, this is a highly individual topic and context is important!). For some people it could be getting stuck in traffic when they’re already late to work in the morning, for others it’s having to speak in front of colleagues and the boss… (🙋🏻♀️).
You may be familiar with what’s often referred to as the fight or flight response – it’s basically our brain reacting to tigers we need to run away from to survive (feel free to imagine any other prehistoric animals here – I’m going to stick with tigers to maintain cohesion).
Now don’t get me wrong, this response can be beneficial – especially in those instances you have to run away from said tigers. Or when the extra adrenaline will help you push yourself on the last mile of your half marathon or face your opponent in your first ever boxing bout.
It turns out to be the opposite of helpful though when this response is prolonged over days, weeks or even months, for example when you end up getting stuck in traffic nearly every day or you drown in project work and deadlines for a month.
This prolonged stress response is called chronic stress and can certainly impact your physical and mental health over time. Consequently it can also influence how you act day to day when going after a specific goal…
So… how can it impact you?
Some stress is good but if we think about running away from those tigers for too long, it can turn into what’s called chronic stress.
Chronic stress can lead to elevated cortisol (the stress hormone) among other issues, impacting functions your body deems less important for survival which in turn impacts your hormones, sleep and can ultimately cause changes to your metabolism too.
All this isn’t great for every day life but it’s something you want to pay close attention to if you happen to go after a specific goal – whether that’s a body goal or wanting to get fitter or racing faster.
There is waaaay more to it and this article explains it really well if you want to read up more 🤓
So… what do you do about it?
Stress can look different for everyone but it’s important that you find a strategy or 2 that can help you cope and manage the stress – both in the moment and ongoing.
Maybe you’re still working from home and putting in long hours (it’s so much easier right?) or long shifts is the nature of your work (looking at you first responders and healthcare workers!).
Add to that getting kids back to school and other activities (sports are back in NZ – bye-bye weekends!) and maybe you picked up some study during lockdown and now some assignments are due 😬 🙋🏻♀️
Since you might not be able to choose/remove a lot of the stressors in your life right now, try one or more of the below strategies to manage your reaction to the stress instead (aka stress management:
In the moment relief
Take a minute for some deep breaths – 4-5 secs in and 5-6 secs out. I also recommend shouting it out if you can (you may need to warn family or go into another room though haha)
Find a decompression ritual
Even if you’re pulling 12 hour days, find something you can do as your transition (for me that’s a loop of our neighbourhood right now as I work from home; it could be a walk when you get home from work, a bath/hot shower or grabbing 10-15 mins to read/listen to a book or podcast or maybe even a quick workout. The intent here is to create space between the stressor and the remainder of your day; I strongly suggest to avoid using food or alcohol as that can create negative patterns/behaviours BUT it’s OK if that’s actually something you’re using right now (I know a lot of us are)! Maybe the suggestions above help you identify something else you can swap on one or 2 days a week?
This might not be for everyone but if you enjoy journaling, give some or all of these prompts a go:
- How did today go?
- What is something good that happened/What was the highlight?
- What can I learn from today?
- What situation caused me stress today?
- What can I do differently next time that happens?
I’d love to know if any of these resonated and if you tried one – OR do you have something that works for you? Share it in the comments below!