I was working about 16 hours a day, hardly sleeping, hardly eating, had a constant pain in my stomach yet had not realised how stressed I was, I had become so entrenched in this way of life.
Not all stress is unnatural and there is no way we can avoid having stress in our lives so it’s important to remember that stress is meant to occur either to save our lives or to help us perform when something matters to us…. you know, like exams, work presentations, interviews and the like. As the saying goes ‘Just another cold night on the side of Everest’ feeling the stress during these situations is perfectly natural and not to be feared – it will eventually pass and there are lots of things you can do to help you stay resilient during these stressful periods.
It is the other type of stress – the always on chronic stress that many of us have in our lives and for some of us has become such an everyday occurrence that we don’t even realise how tightly wound our internal elastic band is. I was chronically stressed with work, no down time, poor sleep and high levels of anxiety when Eva was younger and she was sleeping really badly in response, as she felt my stress and needed me even more when my only thought was to try get her to bed and asleep so that I could work. Eventually my elastic band snapped and one night when I had just got off to sleep, she woke and I was so close to the edge that I started yelling for her to go back to sleep ☹ . I still cringe at that memory but it was my wake-up call to finally realise how out of control my stress had become and when I look back at this period in my life I realise there were so many signs I had missed on the road to getting to this point.
What are your personal stress signals and how can you recognise them and deal with them so that you don’t let yourself get over whelmed?
Feeling panicked or overwhelmed
Inability to think clearly and make decisions
Sick Tummy (another one of my own reactions)
The ideal situation is to never let it get to this point and become proactive in taking responsibility for our mental, emotional and physical needs. Find your own ‘Stress Resilience Prescription’ – those things which help you burn the feelings of stress away. There are lots of known stress relievers – find what works for you and have a little of it every day! I mediatate every morning and regularly bake as my get in the moment stress reliever. Any of these work :-
Exercise – burns stress, just make sure you don’t constantly over do it in a workout as you are just adding fuel to the fire if you are very stressed
Good Food – Lots of good food, fresh veg and fruit all help and do your best to avoid highly processed sugar laden food or excess alcohol during times of stress
Talking and Time with friends – a good laugh works wonders but the science behind it is that talking and time with friends releases oxytocin which protects you in times of stress so the temptation might be to duck away from meeting people but don’t!
Accentuate the positive – we always hear about trying to avoid stressor or people who cause us stress but allowing ourselves to remember good times and really staying in the moment during good times, feeling gratitude for what we have, builds a resilience bank which helps us cope if in times of stress.
Finding time for our hobbies and being outdoors – these two are central to staying resilient during stressful times – finding time to get outdoors is central to keeping our connection to the earth we live on and feeling part of something bigger than ourselves, and keeping time in the diary for our favourite hobby allows the body and mind to recharge especially if we can get so absorbed in it that we find our flow. Even if it is crazy at work, some predictable down time will help you cope and perform better!
Finally, one of the most common behaviours which leads to huge stress is cognitive distortion or what I like to all ‘disasterising’ where your mind puts a spin on things, always in a negative pattern, assuming the worse will or has happened when the truth is usually innocuous. You know when someone hasn’t phone you when they said they would and you assume ‘Oh no, I bet they met someone else’ or you see your boss with what you assume is a cross face and think that you have done something wrong or they weren’t happy with your work….. This is so common (Hand up!) and the problem is that our poor bodies get the stress response as if it has happened because it doesn’t know the difference between what your mind is telling it has happened and what has in fact happened! Think about this and if it is you, try recognise this for what it is and stop these thoughts. The more you recognise it, the easier it will be to nip it in the bud.
Thankfully, I can tell much more easily when things are starting to get out of hand and while its not always easy, getting good at recognising your stress signals will mean you can cope better and stay well during periods of stress.