Wednesday November 3rd is National Stress Awareness Day. Given it’s been a pretty stressful year for many, this might be a great time to give yourself a bit of a stress check-up and tune-up.
Stress is an adaptive response to a challenge or demand, and your body’s way of preparing you for whatever might happen. A normal stress response prepares you to deal with sudden change in your environment (say, the appearance of a fire-breathing dragon), and puts you in the best physiological state to take action (say, fighting that dragon).
When your heart speeds up, your stomach drops, and you become entirely focused on the unwelcome event you’re faced with, that’s your body preparing you for anything.
When you’re ruminating on a situation, playing out worst case scenarios, and telling people off in imaginary conversations, your mind is basically running training programs to prepare you for the threats you’re most likely to encounter.
Stress and the modern world
While we’ve evolved quite well to respond to short-lived and urgent stressors, the modern world is more likely to present us with ongoing chronic ones, such as a demanding boss, heavy traffic, time demands, money problems, or a pandemic.
Living in a state of threat-responsiveness has consequences for our health, including increased risk of heart problems, sleep problems, diabetes, arthritis, infections, depression, and anxiety. People with high stress levels are also more likely to drink, smoke, and gamble, which have their own consequences.
Stress has been identified as a contributor to 95% of all disease processes.
Luckily, there is a lot you can do to mitigate these risks.
What can you change?
“My boss demands so much from me, I can’t deal with it. I’ll have to work at least 12 hours today. I’ll never get it all done! I haven’t had a day off in several weeks, I can’t cope!” – Larissa Wright
“Wait, I’m self-employed.” – also Larissa Wright
It’s easy to forget that some parts of our lives are within our power to change. If you’re in a job, relationship, or other situation that is causing ongoing stress, it might be time to consider how you can change the features of those things, or let go of them entirely.
Major life change can be a stressful thing in itself, of course, but ripping off the Band-Aid may be worth it in the long run.
You are the only hero coming to rescue you from your own life, so make sure you’re living it in a way that works for you.
What can you do?
Ironically, the first thing we suggest for stress relief is usually a healthy lifestyle, and the Australian Psychology Society reports “trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle” as one of the top five causes of stress in Australia.
That isn’t to say “don’t do it,” of course. It’s more of a reminder to be mindful of how you do it. Any changes you make should be flexible, enjoyable, and achievable, and not another reason to beat yourself up for perceived failure.
You know what they say… “The best exercise is the one you’ll do.” Same goes for dietary changes and any other new habits!
There’s plenty of scientific evidence to support the stress-busting power of yoga, meditation, mindfulness, massage, time in nature, eating well, good sleep hygiene, connecting with supportive people, taking a holiday, and making time for enjoyable leisure activities.
If you can view stress reduction as part of your mandatory health routine rather than a luxury you’ll find time for ‘some day’, you’ll be doing yourself a favour.
How do you perceive it?
Your body’s stress response is not directly dependent on external stressors, but rather, how you perceive them. And your perceptions have largely been conditioned through your life experiences, beliefs, and expectations.
Stress is usually a response not to the stressor itself, but to the meaning we make of it.
If you’ve seen that fire-breathing dragon incinerate the rest of your tribe and expect him to do the same to you, you’ll respond do him with more stress than if you see it as a chance impress your mates and are confident you’ll beat him.
If you strongly define your own worth by what others think, you will be more stressed by negative feedback, and if you define yourself by your career, any kind of knockback in that domain is more likely to keep you awake at nights.
Someone with a history of bullying or violence is likely to experience more stress in response to a harsh word or raised voice.
The good news is that what is learned can be unlearned. This gives us space to identify inner processes that can be worked with, and wiggle room to reduce our stress, even when we can’t change certain external circumstances.
Can you identify unhelpful thoughts and beliefs that are contributing to your stress?
Every great hero has a cast of mentors and sidekicks!
Gestalt therapists approach the therapeutic process in a holistic way, taking into consideration your inner and outer, physical, mental, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual conditions, as well as your relationships and environment. We believe that none of these can be separated from the others or disregarded, and all must be considered to achieve true growth and healing.
If you’d like to talk to us about how we can help you reduce your stress and live life in a more fulfilling and enjoyable way, get in touch today to organise a free consultation.