Let’s face it: we can’t completely eliminate stress from our lives. However, we can learn tools and techniques to reduce stress, and we can use these to remain calm and
collected during stressful situations.
The first part of the process involves understanding the physical and emotional effects of stress. Once we understand what’s happening – and why – we can start taking steps to address this.
What is stress?
Stress is a feeling of being put under excessive pressure, whether that’s getting stuck in traffic on the way to work, dealing with difficult colleagues, or having a long-standing family disagreement. During these frustrating or uncomfortable situations, we may feel threatened and upset, which will cause a stress response. This can change the way we behave and heighten our emotions.
It is inevitable that we will experience stress in some form or another in an average week. However, regularly experiencing serious stress can take a long-lasting toll on our well-being.
Symptoms of stress
Low energy Headaches Aches, pains and tense muscles Chest pain and rapid heartbeat Insomnia Frequent colds and infections
What causes stress?
Sometimes our bodies misinterpret a difficult situation as a threat – for example, being called to an unexpected meeting. When that happens, our hypothalamus (a section of your brain) sets off an alarm system. These triggered nerve and hormonal signals prompt the adrenal glands to release stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. It’s known as the fight or flight response.
This hormone will increase your heart rate, elevate your blood pressure and boost your energy supplies. Some people enjoy the excitement from a rush of adrenaline, particularly when participating in extreme sports, but it can also make you feel panicky and stressed in an everyday setting.
The primary stress hormone, cortisol will increase glucose in the bloodstream, enhance the brain’s use of glucose and increase the availability of substances that can repair tissue. It will also limit bodily functions not essential during a fight or flight situation.
Once the body is aware that the perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to their natural state, and your systems can resume regular activities.
When a person is regularly feeling stressed, the fight or flight mode becomes the natural state. That can be exhausting and detrimental to health.
How to reduce stress: The when/what/why technique
There are three steps you can take if you are feeling stressed: ask yourself when, what and why.
When: If you’re experiencing physical signs of stress, such as a headache or tense muscles, try to connect them to a moment in your day that may have caused the symptoms. Put simply, when did you start feeling stressed?
What: Identify the causes. Try to find relief from your stress by putting the reasons into three categories:
1) Those with a practical solution
2) Those that will improve or elevate with time
3) Those you have no control over
Once you have categorised your stress, you can either let it go or work towards a
Why: Now it’s time to review why the stressful situation happened. Are you taking on too much work? Can you delegate? You may need to prioritise the items on your to-do list to release the pressure built by trying to tackle too many things at once.
How to use mindfulness to reduce stress
Mindfulness is the art of paying attention. It’s about focusing the mind on something specific and allowing external thoughts to pass. By doing that, you can start to reduce feelings of stress.
The idea is to encourage our minds to be in the moment. You can sense the tug of the past and the future, but you have chosen to focus on the opportunity and potential of the present.
Easy ways to encourage mindfulness
- Practise breathwork
- Focus on one thing at a time
- Take regular breaks and periods of rest
- Eat healthy, nutritious food slowly
- Spend time in nature, relaxing outdoors
- Practise gratitude
Ready to start practising mindfulness to reduce stress? Check out our 7 days of meditations to help you find a sense of calm.