What's your Stress Pattern?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that all stress is bad. Think of a time you had a tough deadline to meet; adrenaline pumping, ultimate focus and your ability to work through got you there. Or when you had to make a presentation and your nerves drove you to be prepared and deliver a killer presentation. This is the body’s coping mechanism.
The danger is when you live like this most of the time. The body doesn’t function well when you are constantly running on adrenaline; the heart has to work over time, you are not sleeping well, you crave sugar and caffeine and your digestion is shot.
So what are the signs that you are in a stressful situation? I ask clients to show where in the body they feel stress – maybe they indicate across the shoulders, a headache in the temples, in their stomach or in their lower back. It is a good skill to learn to identify where you feel stress and thereby recognise when you are in stress-mode.
You can then ask yourself if you need this stress – will it benefit you and help you achieve your goals? The mind-body connection means that any stress you experience is a result of your mind choosing to let your body react in this way. So if the stress isn’t going to help you, then you need to take control of your mind and bring calm to it, which will then convince the body that it’s safe to relax. Choose something relaxing that works for you; (generally it helps to remove yourself from the stressful situation) take a walk, try meditation, spend time outdoors or listen to music
Next pinpoint what has caused the stress to occur. It could be a deadline, a particular person, a holiday or too many/conflicting responsibilities.
Often it’s a feeling of something that happens ‘to you’, is ‘not your fault’ or ‘can’t be avoided’ is a trigger for stress. We all choose what we do in our lives (though it doesn’t always feel like that). When you come to the realisation that ‘yes, this is hard but I’ve chosen to do this’ or ‘I really don’t need this and am going to say no’, it becomes much easier. Once you have the stressors identified the next time it occurs you can be ready to face it.
Finally, I would recommend that you learn to identify the causes of stress in your life, check for patterns (when else have I experienced this?) and plan your life accordingly. For example, if you have deadlines approaching, exams etc then take care of yourself. Build yourself up for what might be a stressful period – take your vitamins, get exercising, plan fun times with friends, get into a good sleep pattern, plan healthy meals and snacks. You can also bring stress reducing habits into your daily life – escape the office at lunch time, walk to work, practice breathing techniques first thing in the morning, take up yoga or tai chi, drink herbal tea.
P.S. There’s a great article on tai chi in February’s Psychologies magazine.