Make friends with your stress
“Every day brings a choice: to practice stress or to practice peace.” ~Joan Borysenko
We all have those days when it feels like there’s too much going on and not enough time, things are getting out-of-control. Perhaps there’s pressure at work, relationship issues, kids to look after and run around, domestic duties piling up, social commitments, bills to pay, money worries, trying to make time to exercise, relax, spend more time with the family? We can feel overwhelmed and not able to see an end in site, which can add to the stress.
Stress is not essentially bad. We need some stress to motivate us to get things done. We need stress to help us meet work deadlines, study for an exam or motivate us to earn a living to pay the bills. It’s when there is too much stress, over prolonged periods, that we run the risk of burnout – we disengage and withdraw because we feel we just can’t cope. Day-to-day things we normally do seem like a massive effort and exhausting, so we just stop doing them.
Biologically, stress is linked to our survival instinct, to the fight or flight response. It is the body’s response to real and perceived danger. Thousands of years ago when faced with a sabre tooth tiger the fight or flight response would kick in to make us run, fast!
When stressed, more blood is pumped around the body for energy – our heart rate increases, more blood is sent to muscles, we use more oxygen for breathing, our nervous system is switched to action, adrenaline is released, and the mind races to find the best escape.
During periods of stress, non-essential systems such as digestion, elimination, reproduction and the immune system receive less blood and are reduced in function.
This imbalance in the body is fine for a short time. Once we’ve escaped the tiger we feel relieved and the body naturally returns to balance. If the body remains imbalanced through ongoing stress, it continues to function in fight or flight mode, which can lead to stress-related diseases.
Today we don’t have the same physical threats in our daily life. Our stress is usually mental or psychological. Yes, it’s all about the mind!
A well-know researcher Dr Seligman has studied optimism and health. He found that “it is not the potential stressor itself but how you perceive it and then how you handle it that will determine whether or not it will lead to stress.”
He goes on to say “how you see things and how you handle them makes all the difference in terms of how much stress you will experience”. So what he is saying is we have the power to affect the balance between our internal mechanisms for coping with stress, and the stressors that are an avoidable part of living.
So how we do that?
We could waste a lot energy trying to change things that stress us, and often we won’t be able to change the stressor. A better approach is to focus on what we can do.
Here are my personal tried-and-true steps to manage stress…
1. Learn to recognise the signs of stress for you
For me it’s tight neck and shoulders, an upset stomach or loss of appetite, and not sleeping well. Mentally my mind is a busy and sometimes I feel anxious. There are constant thoughts of feeling overwhelmed, I can get cranky or just withdraw.
Developing awareness of the signs of stress on all levels will help us take the helpful actions we need to bring balance.
2. Release accumulated stress
Most problems stem from accumulated stress over a period of time. We need to treat this first. Using specific yoga techniques we move the body to release tension, we breathe to relax and develop a longer calmer breath, we soothe the nervous system and pacify the mind.
3. Build strength and confidence to face stress
Whilst it might feel good to rest and relax in times of high stress, and perhaps this may be what we initially need, we also need to make ourselves strong to deal with life challenges.
Yoga provides plenty of tools to increase our energy, make our bodies stronger, build confidence, resilience, and improve the functioning of our physiological systems (e.g. immune, endocrine, nervous system).
4. Develop mindfulness
Taking a leaf from Dr Seligman’s book, we can develop our ability to face stress and be more aware of how we perceive stressful situations. Mindfulness and mindfulness meditation helps us to connect with our inner resources to see things more clearly, to become more accepting of what is, and be flexible and adaptive in the face of the constant change and challenge. We can learn to respond in helpful ways rather than reacting. We can reduce our suffering.
5. Make the time for your health and wellbeing
You don’t need to become a monk and meditate for hours on end or do 2 hours of yoga to receive the benefits. It could be a simple as 15 minutes after work doing a few key yoga postures to release tension from the day, or 5 minutes breathing practice in bed to start the day with a calm mind. It’s knowing what you need and the right application of yoga at that time.
It’s also about making time. To reap the benefits you need to practice. Think about rescheduling time spent on the net or Facebook, or other ways you could re-organise time towards your nurturing your wellbeing.
These strategies helped me maintain a level of equanimity and manage in times of high stress. That’s not to say I don’t get stressed, but I feel more empowered knowing I have an ally in yoga, even though things might not be going great.
There are positive steps we can take towards dealing with change and reducing the impacts of stress on ourselves, and our lives. We can make friends with the stress that is an inevitable part of modern living.
“Every twenty-four hour day is a tremendous gift to us. So we should all learn to live in a way that makes joy and happiness possible” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Kyle successfully balances a busy corporate career with a full recreational and social life. Yoga and meditation contribute to maintanence of that balance and she still has the energy to teach yoga and meditation at yogaphysio. Learn more on how to keep that balance.
Kyle teaches the yoga at yogaphysio on Saturday mornings. She will also be holding space for an ongoing meditation session on Monday evenings 6 - 7pm (recommended donation $10).
Check out Kyle's website www.yogaforstress.com.au - for a yoga specifically for stress workshop, near you!