November 6, 2020 9:10:45 am
You wake up in the morning to unexpected news, deadlines, personal commitments and a series of thoughts about how the day will unfold. Sounds relatable? The unfortunate reality – wherever you live or work, stress is on the rise.
In simple words, stress is the body-mind response to a perceived threat. Notice the use of the word ‘perceived’ here. Often, we experience stress by merely imagining a future scenario. This triggers many changes at a physiological level – the pulse quickens, breathing rate goes up and our body releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. For a short time (e.g.: an important deadline), some amount of stress could actually help us focus. The problem arises when we experience prolonged periods of stress. This explains why psychosomatic health conditions, i.e. physical health conditions that are triggered by a mental factor, are on the rise.
Most people tend to ‘resist’ stress. There is a voice inside of us that says, “I’m not supposed to be feeling this.” In reality, accepting and making friends with stress can make it easier for us to thrive.
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But, what do I mean by ‘make friends with stress?’ And is that even a possibility? Yes, it is possible to not only make friends with stress but grow through it to emerge as a happier, more resilient and successful individual.
Here are some dos and don’ts on how we can ‘make friends with stress.’
- Make a distinction between the stressor and your stress: Remember the last time you were stuck in traffic? Well, I do – whilst I was on my way to the airport. I suddenly got nervous about missing the flight, and passed on this nervous tension to the cab driver, too. Often, we perceive these day to day circumstances as reasons for our stress. However, these are simply triggers or stressors, and our response is stress.
Everyday practice: Observe your stressors. Write them down, if needed. Over a period of time, you will become a witness to them rather than label them as the reason for stress.
- Recognise the ‘impermanence’ of negative emotions: Research in neuroscience indicates that the physiological lifespan of emotion in the body and brain is 90 seconds. What keeps negative emotions and stress lingering is the stories we tell ourselves about them. When we realise that everything, including our life itself, is impermanent, we develop the resilience to go through stress, even with a smile.
Everyday practice: For a few minutes, reflect on how you’ve grown through difficult moments in the past. This will help you realise that every situation is impermanent, and the resources to get through it are within you.
- Cultivate a practice (which gives deep rest): It is difficult to manage the mind at its level. No wonder, our stress only seems to increase when we say to ourselves, “don’t get stressed!” This is where practices like breathwork and meditation help. They also create a physiological shift in the body and brain, which effortlessly helps us to both accept the stress and move beyond it.
Everyday practice: Meditate for 20 minutes – add this to your ‘to-do’ list, and make it non-negotiable.
- Act impulsively: Hold on! Don’t send that impulsive text message to your partner or a harsh reply to an email when you’re experiencing high stress. Our brains are wired to be more reactionary under stress. We have this pressing need to impose certainty on the uncertain which could lead to impulsive decisions.
Everyday habit: Take 10 deep breaths (4:4:4 – inhale 4 counts, hold your breath 4 counts, exhale 4 counts) or breathe in through your nostrils and breathe out through your mouth (like blowing a candle).
- Rely on ‘unhealthy’ coping strategies – Coping with stress can be difficult but making the wrong coping mechanism choices can add that much more stress to your life. Alcohol, smoking, binge-watching shows etc. can make us experience illusory relief, but in reality, these are ways to escape our emotions vs. embrace them and grow through them.
Everyday habits: Keep away from screen time post 9 pm, limit white sugar intake, eat your last meal by 8 pm, exercise for 30 minutes, limit alcohol intake to up to 1 drink a day (and if possible, avoid it completely).
Remember – When we make lifestyle changes, there is a physiological shift in our nervous system, body and brain which allows us to reduce stress and increase energy levels.
- Ask “why me?” – In difficult times, it could be natural for us to wonder, “why me?” or compare ourselves to others. Instead, ask yourself, “what is this situation teaching me?” or “how can this experience help me move closer to my goals?” As Victor Frankl wrote, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, only by lack of meaning and purpose.”
Everyday habit: Journal. Write about your vision for the future (could be 1 month, 6 months or 12 months from today) – all that you see yourself achieving and what values you choose to live by in the process.
(The writer is an Organizational Psychologist, Leadership Consultant & Wellness Coach. You can read about her work on http://www.nikitasingh.org)
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