Make Stress Your Friend #2

Flight or Fight!? How often do you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or relentlessly chasing deadlines as if your life depended on it? Let’s talk about why stress has low-key been the reason we’re achieving our goals and why we need to form a healthier relationship with it. I’ve talked about this before in the first post on make stress your friend.

Today, I’ll dive a little deeper and refresh our memory on this. I’ll speak about what stress is, how it’s released, why we need to manage it and how we can acquaint ourselves to it. Nature has a remarkable way of pushing evolution forward, it’s our responsibility to learn how these innate responses affect us.

What is the stress response?

The flight or fight response is part of the sympathetic nervous system’s reaction to emergencies that you experience. This is what happens when you’re being chased by a lion, have an approaching assignment deadline or feeling sickly. The subconscious response is both physical and emotional, to optimize your reaction to the given situation.

This can work for you or against you, depending on how often you’re confronted with situations that trigger this response. The neural connections formed over the past several millennia don’t adapt quickly enough to our modern-day problems. We now experience the same stress response for much simpler issues; like not getting enough likes/followers on IG, being subtweeted or even worrying about your feed, which could start getting unhealthy.

Chronic stress is when you’re repeatedly exposed to situations that trigger the release of stress hormones in your body. This can be detrimental to your health for several reasons. Let’s discuss how the body releases those hormones and why we need to manage them adequately.

How is stress released?

Once you start thinking about all those deadlines (or when you’re faced with highly stressful encounters), how does the body react?

There’s quite a complicated process that goes on in your brain, specifically within the hypothalamus. Here’s a brief overview of what happens:

  • Epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol are released.
  • Heart rate increases.
  • Breathing intensifies.
  • Blood sugar is released, increasing energy.
  • You become much more alert and vigilant.

This process is programmed into our subconscious mind and has proven to be an invaluable evolutionary asset. But what happens when the response becomes chronic?

Why we need to manage our levels of stress

Understanding the physiological response is critical in being able to make better decisions for your own mental well-being. The constant surge of epinephrine can become very damaging after a prolonged period of time. It damages your blood vessels and arteries, which increases your blood pressure and chances of having a heart attack/stroke.

The constant release of cortisol also increases your appetite and decreases the activity in your digestive system, since your body is using up the energy reserves. This is probably the reason why people often ‘stress-eat’ and indulge in junk food when they’re feeling overly stressed.

Thankfully, there are ways for us to combat these issues and maintain a healthy outlook on the stress response.

How can we become allies with stress?

  • Acceptance
  • Perspective
  • Breathe
  • Journal
  • Exercise or go for a walk
  • Speak to someone

Acceptance is always the first key when tackling a problem. Acknowledge and be honest with yourself about it. If you’re someone who tends to get stressed more than is necessary, notice the changes that happen in your body and don’t judge yourself for it. It’s part of your evolution.

The perspective you should embrace is that of kindness. Look at stress through a positive lens and that will change your outlook on it. It’s there to help you adapt, to effectively deal with changes, to energize you, to boost your body and to get you to focus. It’s also what motivates you to get off the couch and get some work done.

Breathe. This is honestly one of the best ways to calm your body down. Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed or anxious, focus on taking in deep conscious breaths to the bottom of your abdomen. Don’t underestimate how effective this simple technique is. It will help ground you.

Here I am speaking about journalling yet again, what a surprise… It serves as an incredible outlet for you to let out emotions and clear your mind. This will help you assess the problem much more realistically and will reduce the chances of you lashing it out on others.

Exercise or go for a walk – preferably in nature. Sometimes a healthy distraction is all you need to get a grip on your thought patterns. Releasing the energy through physical exertion will certainly help calm your mind and body. Going for a walk in nature is particularly useful to gain a more philosophical outlook on the problem(s) at hand.

The last recommendation is to simply speak to someone. If you have someone that you can confide in and discuss your issues with, raise it up with them. Be wary of the energy you bring to the table, you don’t want to make them feel overwhelmed either. A great approach is to ask:

“Are you in the right emotional state to listen to what’s been stressing me out?”

Don’t bottle things up, just be considerate to others. If you’re struggling with chronic stress and feel like it might burden those you care about, consider therapy. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. You’re just speaking to someone who can guide your thought patterns into something a little healthier.

I know stress is not easy to manage and it can become very overwhelming when you have several responsibilities. Keep in mind that this is all part of your journey and that it’s all contributing to your growth. Focus on having a growth mindset, find tactics to keep you grounded and always remember to breathe. Stay present, you got this.

How to journal

So a frequently asked question that I usually get is: “How exactly do you journal?”. There isn’t a very complicated answer, but I’d like to emphasize the importance of writing your thoughts & goals down, and how it can help with every aspect of your life. Some of you may already have a method that works for you, but I’ll discuss the technique that I’ve found most efficient for me and how you can integrate it.

One of the things that I mention quite often, is organizing your thoughts and de-cluttering your mind. This is something that I think journalling helps the most with. Instead of juggling with several different thoughts and reminders in your mind, having a safe space to let them out and analyze them can do wonders for you. Not only do you become more productive and goal-oriented, but you also notice what’s holding you back and things that aren’t generally supporting your well-being. These are some of the useful times to write your thoughts down:

  • When you have a busy schedule & need to prioritize tasks
  • When you’re trying to learn something new
  • Planning projects or events
  • When you’re feeling overwhelmed or going through a difficult period

The points aforementioned are but a handful of the times journalling could be useful. It’s important to also write down when things are going well or when you’ve achieved certain goals, since these will serve as self-motivation. Journalling overall can serve as an incredible tool for personal growth and insight, especially when you read back on entries after a few weeks or months. You have a chance to gain from your experiences and learn from your mistakes even more deeply, since you have a much clearer image of it. A time capsule of your own life.

As mentioned in The Journey II, I find writing down most effective in the morning before I start my day. This gives me clarity for the day ahead and helps me achieve the goals of the day. This also works well at night before you go to bed, so it really depends on what works for you. I do have different journals for different reasons, but this will focus more on a general “mind dump” journal. The 4 main writing points are as follows:

  1. Empty out your mind
  2. Summarize your previous day
  3. Write down your objectives for the day
  4. Talk about what you’re grateful for

These 4 points integrate with the previous bullet points as well, whereby you could empty your mind out by writing down any specific thoughts you have. Don’t feel shy with this, let it all out as you deem fit, so that you’re not keeping yourself occupied with unnecessary thinking. The second thing I enjoy writing about is my experiences, this would generally be a summary of the things I did, the people I’ve met and how I’ve felt about it. It’s like adding a diary aspect, where you could read back on those moments and maybe feel nostalgic. Putting your objectives for the day into perspective is also vital, since this would give you a better understanding of how to manage your time and get as much done. Finally, I can’t emphasize the importance of starting your day with gratitude and positivity. It’s honestly one of the best things you can do for your soul, since it allows you to appreciate what you have more and enables you to deal better with tragedies and losses.

Some of these may sound repetitive and obvious, but it’s truly been life changing for me which is why I advise it so much. As with every other habit for success, consistency is key. Doing this on a regular basis and reflecting on the entries would make it even more valuable, since you’ll be able to identify thought & behavioural patterns. Remember that you’re writing for yourself, so it doesn’t have to be an essay or anything strenuous, just enjoy the quality time you deserve with yourself.