We have all experienced stress at some point in our lives. Stress is part of our survival mechanism and without it we wouldn’t be here. It triggers our senses to alert us to what is dangerous and what isn’t, when we need to stay and fight and when we need to run like the clappers.
Despite what some may think, stress isn’t a bad thing, it drives us and gives us the adrenalin surge that we need. Our Olympic athletes needed an adrenalin surge when on the starting line for the 500 meters just as much as a sales manager may need it to meet their monthly sales target. It’s when stress becomes a resident and moves in that problems start to occur.
Cavemen and other hunter gathers needed the stress response to alert them to a fire sweeping though the jungle or to alert them to a wild beast. Yet our brains haven’t developed that much since our evolutionary days and we didn’t sign up today’s stress triggers such as emails, deadlines, traffic jams, office politics, relationship breakdowns and so on.
Yet why is it that one person can appear as cool as a cucumber in the face of stress and another can lose their head? Stress is based on perception, so what one person perceives as stressful, another may not. Stress is actually very manageable and if we know some helpful techniques to dealing with it, we can control it and even better, prevent it.
How to spot the signs of stress
Stress has many guises and to some people it may not even be apparent that they are stressed accepting it instead as a way of life. Here are some of the key signs you can look for to indicate you are stressed;
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Inability to think clearly or process information
- Inability to think creatively or access your imagination
- An inability to relax, appearing fidgety
- Irrational thinking
- Negative emotions such as insecurity, guilt, worry, fear
- Shallow breathing
- Trouble sleeping; trouble getting to sleep or disturbed sleep
- Psychical problems such as digestive issues, abdominal cramps, pain, bloating
How to deal with stress
One of the key interventions to overcoming stress is to calm and focus your mind. A simple way of doing this is to do some 7/11 breathing. Breathing in for the count of 7 and out for the count of 11 triggers the parasympathetic side of the nervous system, which is also the relaxation response. Imagine your stomach is a balloon and as you breathe in for the count of 7 fill your stomach with air and as you breathe out for the count of 11 let your stomach deflate. Keep your shoulders and chest relaxed as you do this and let your stomach do the work. Remember your lungs go all the way down your torso. Do approximately 7 – 10 repetitions of this breathing technique and notice how much calmer an more relaxed you feel afterwards.
Read our blog post on 7/11 breathing for more information here.
It may feel that stress is part of modern day life and should be accepted. Whilst we all experience a degree of stress now and again, long term if it isn’t dealt with, stress has an overwhelming impact on the body and is currently the number one reason for absence in the UK and the underlying reason of over half of medical conditions. It is also important to remember that stress is normal. It is a subconscious response based on your bodies own survival mechanism and it doesn’t mean that you are not capable of managing your life or work.
Our ability to deal with stress comes from our spare capacity. We can create more spare capacity by taking time out on a regular basis to relax. When we do this we create space in the mind and body allowing us to deal with situations calmly and rationally, to think clearly, to tune into our instincts and to remain in control of our emotions.