Stress comes in all shapes and sizes. It is simply an everyday occurrence that we are amazingly equipped to react to. Sometimes in ways that can even save our lives. Whether the stress literally saves your life when you unintentionally walk up to a bear in the woods or figuratively when going against your friends and enemies in a paintball tournament, stress happens. When we react to that stress we get the classic fight or flight responses.
When it comes to stress, how do you manage the good and the bad? Your body is capable of great things, including saving you from your stress…but only for so long. Finding your balance is a key to living a happy life.
So yes, when it comes to bears and paintballs, a little stress can be a good thing. It can help you to run faster, fight harder, and can enhance your reflexes. But when it’s about saving face in the boardroom or getting through the afternoon commute, the usual reactions aren’t always appropriate. So, instead of fighting the boss or fleeing the scene, we often end up suppressing the instinctual stress reflexes. Our body can take the hit and hold onto the reaction for us. You get to keep your job and arrive home safe at the end of the day. These are also fabulous outcomes, yet your body can’t hold onto it forever.
The Signs of Stress
Signs of stress are as broad and varied as the population. Everyone reacts in their own way, and some common indications include:
- stomach is left feeling queasy over a decision
- your headaches from stashing tension in your shoulders and jaw
- legs are jumpy from itching to move away from what your mind says is a dangerous scenario
- sleep becomes disrupted and you become sleep deprived and irritable (and more susceptible to the negative effects of stress)
- medications or other items help suppress the effects of stress, but you’re noticing they bring undesirable side effects of their own
What To Do
The first and biggest challenge is to recognize when you are holding stress in. You can fix what you don’t acknowledge. Once you’ve ruled out stabby things, over-exertion, and other physical considerations as the cause of your body’s current state; you might decide that stress-inducers are the culprit. When you know you have been in a stressful situation and are still feeling the effects, here are five steps to set yourself right:
Seriously, just breathe, slowly and consciously. As you breathe, check on the rest of your body. Relax your muscles, including your arms, neck, back, and abdomen.
Now that you know where the tension is, work it out. Shake out your arms and legs or just stand up and step, walk, jog. Feel like moving more or harder then do it. The key is to focus on the stress and tension leaving.
Oh yeah, and keep breathing. None of this shallow, tight shouldered stuff, either. Take relaxed, full breaths. (This isn’t really a step, just a reminder.)
Forget about it!
You’re focusing on breathing and moving, remember? If the source of your stress is behind you (like that shitty commute), then let it leave with the physical tension. There is no benefit at all to holding on to it. However, if the source of your stress is still a consideration (a big decision you need to still make), you can still put it aside for a moment. Think about putting it in a box, or setting in on a shelf. Write it down, briefly, and set the paper aside. With these little exercises, the stress is no longer part of you, and you can come back to it later.
Consider the source of your stress from a distance. When you look at situations and events from a third-party view, you can notice options and opportunities that can be difficult to see when you are stressed.
Step back in
This is critical. You can’t stay as a third party observer forever. Bring your focus back from your movement and breathing, and focus on you. Come back to your day, as it is now, after the stressful events.
You’re still breathing, right? Notice the sensations of stress lessening and leaving. Stress got you through the situation, and it did what it was supposed to do. Now that it’s no longer needed, let it all go.
This seems simple enough because it really is. It’s foundational stuff for staying well and at your best. Get back to the basics and back to conscious breathing and movement to clear out the stress that is no longer doing you any good.
Stress happens whether we want it to or not and, hell, sometimes we even go looking for it. We dive into it on purpose to gain an edge in a tight situation. The key is in not hanging on to it once those situations are over.
***Jenn Danielson brings science and spreadsheets together with incense and energy to help people create balanced growth. With a background in science, standards and project management along with solution-focused coaching, Reiki, and mindful practice, she supports people making their next big steps, within the bigger picture of their lives. Connect the dots across your life and walk the balance of career, health, life, family, and play. Visit Jenn’s website here and follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.