How do you manage the daily stressors of life? Have you found your stress levels increased during this time of COVID19?
Stress is a normal part of our everyday existence. It’s the physical and mental wear-and-tear we all have, as we are challenged by the daily obstacles in our lives, whether at work, at school, at home, or wherever. The truth is, life isn’t completely easy for anyone. We all have things we have to deal with that we don’t really want to – and that’s where most of our stress comes from.
Research reveals that biologically, stress is an adaptive response of our nervous system, fueled by two hormones – epinephrine (“adrenaline”) and norepinephrine – which are evolutionarily designed to be released in our bodies whenever we perceive something in our environment as a potential threat. The release of these hormones creates a behavioral response known as the “fight or flight or freeze” response. It’s a heightened state of arousal that makes us super energized and focused.
For example, if an animal is feeling threatened by a predator, it may engage in one of three main responses related to stress:
Fight – Attack the predator
Flight – Run away from the predator
Freeze – Stop moving or play dead
Today we still respond to our stress in similar ways; however, now the threat isn’t usually a predator, but a deadline to meet at work, or an argument with a friend, or a class we’re doing poorly in.The stress in our lives can often be a good thing, but if it becomes too excessive it can have very negative effects on both our physical and mental health.
Okay! So the first step in becoming smarter about your stress is reframing the “fight or flight or freeze” response as something that can be positive, and not just see stress as solely a negative thing.
This requires that we both…
1) Recognize when stress is a helpful signal to guide our lives, and
2) Learn how to respond appropriately to stress in certain situations.
Remember, in the right doses stress can be helpful. We’ve evolved to have the “fight or flight or freeze” response for practical reasons, and in many ways those reasons still apply to today’s world, just in a different form. Today’s stress is not usually caused by things that are directly “life threatening,” but they do often direct our focus toward relevant problems in our lives that may need some extra attention.
How to reframe stress in this way:
Reframing “Fight” – Stress can motivate you to focus on your problems and take active measures to face them and fix them. For example, feeling stressed out about an exam can motivate you to study harder so you make sure you do well.
Reframing “Flight” – Stress can help you identify things in your life that cause you unnecessary or excessive stress, giving you an idea of some things in life you may want to cut out. For example, if a certain person at work stresses you out, you may try your best to minimize the time you spend talking to them.
Reframing “Freeze” – Stress can cause you to take a step back and re-evaluate a situation before going back to it. For example, if you’re feeling stressed out about a job, you may want to reflect on how much the job really means to you and whether it’s worth it.
Balancing Stress with Relaxation
Stress can be good in small doses, but really toxic in large doses. It’s important to balance stress with relaxation throughout your day to keep your body and mind sharp and refreshed. This means taking healthy and frequent breaks from your work whenever it’s necessary.
Often we can only stay fully concentrated on a task for 45-90 minutes. After that, we become tired and fatigued, our focus gets more blurry, and our thinking becomes less sharp.
When you reach that point in your day, it’s probably time to walk away from your work, get a breath of fresh air, or have a friendly chat with someone – anything that gives your body and mind a break from what you’re doing.
When reflecting on your daily routine, make sure that you’re actively scheduling time for relaxation and leisure. Because “relaxation” and “productivity” are two sides of the same coin. And you have to balance both if you want to maximize both.
If you want to master the stress in your life, know when it’s time to embrace stressful and challenging activities, and know when it’s time to take a step back and just relax for a little bit. The balancing point is going to be different for every individual, but when you discover where that balancing point is for you, you’ll maximize both your productivity and happiness. If you want one-on-one feedback on how to improve your daily routine, reach out to us for self-improvement coaching.
Take care and stay safe
The Counselling Department