Understanding your relationship with stress
Understanding how stress affects your body, mind and health is important in knowing what level of stress is normal or healthy for you and how to manage stress when it is becoming too much or unhealthy for you. Stress is an everyday occurrence it is a part of life for many of us and so it is important to know whether you have a healthy relationship with stress or not.
Stress shows up in many different ways and can be helpful or harmful. It can be a motivator, or a destroyer. It can build us up and help us grow, or it can tear us down. In challenging times stress can come to our aid, keeping us alert and focused, and helping us to make it through tough situations. However, it can also become overwhelming, sending us into overdrive, fraying our nervous system, pushing us to overwork, overcommit and creating a scattered and overwhelmed body and mind.
The pressure to survive, pressure to rise up the social or corporate ladder, pressure to provide, pressure to keep up with the Kardashians (not just the Jones’ but the Kardashians), can all be triggers that can drive us. For a short while this boost in adrenaline and stress energy can be the exact thing we need, but left unchecked, it can easily slip into overwhelm and unhealthy levels of stress.
Similarly, as soon as we feel threatened, whether that threat is real or perceived we jump into action, and for a short while this jolt of stress can be the exact thing we need to survive, yet when we stay in this mode for extended periods of time all of our physical, mental and emotional systems begin to degrade.
Our ability to successfully manage the resources at our disposal, such as time, money, energy and space are also stress motivators. When we feel that we don’t have enough time, money, energy or space, stress kicks in to solve “the problem”. It can either swoop in and help save the day, or it can have us burning the candle at both ends until we ultimately crash.
When our fears and anxieties around survival, or living our best life raise their heads, we begin to imagine what problems or issues we need to face. Whether these are real or imagined does not matter, stress will appear to aid in fixing these “future problems”‘ which have not or may never materialise. This can have us expending energy, time, money and resources in wasteful and unnecessary ways.
Similarly, major life events such as weddings and divorces, job promotions or demotions, financial wins or financial setbacks, births and deaths, moving home or moving country are all potential stress triggers, which can invoke various levels of stress in our bodies, minds and hearts. These major life events are tied up with memories of the past, emotional bonds, levels of security or insecurity, financial pressures and our basic need for survival. Being mindful of how they trigger us and what actions we are driven to take from a place of pressure can be windows into understanding whether stress energy is showing up in healthy and supportive ways or in unhealthy and potentially damaging ways.
Prolonged expose to stress on our physical body can have far reaching consequences to our health, to our focus and to our ability to successfully function and thrive in this life. I am by no means a medical expert, and so offer this to you as a way for you to explore and uncover how stress affects you personally, and to have some early warning systems in place that can assist you in curbing the negative effects of stress.
You need to become an investigator, bringing into conscious awareness what is going on for you and how are you responding to what life throws in your path. Begin to notice any physical symptoms, any emotional distress, any mental fogginess, any difficulties in sleeping or concentrating.
Begin to notice what is driving or pushing you to take actions in your life. For many of us we are driven by the mental story making of the mind. The stories that tell us that we are not good enough, or that we need to work harder or do more to prove our value or our worth. The stories that tell us what we “should” do to be a good person, mother, husband, father, wife, brother, sister etc, etc.
There are also external pressures that we allow to override our healthy boundaries, things that we know are not good for us, but we do them anyway.
There are habits that we have acquired along the way that may have seemed to make life easier, but which do not support us. Habits are wonderful tools to automate processes and keep us on track, but if we have adopted a habit that feels as if it soothes us during times of stress, we may find ourselves reaching for the tub of ice-cream when we feel pressured in any way because on some level, we associated it with feeling better or feeling safe.
What to watch out for
- Watch for how you are breathing, shallow fast breathing is usually a sign of the body in stress. Slow and deep breathing signals to the body that you are safe, and it calms down and regulates the nervous system as well as other important systems in the body.
- What is going on with your emotions, are you feeling out of control emotionally, jumping into things when you feel emotionally nervous? Or can you come to a place of emotional calmness, where you have clarity around what to do and where to take action?
- What are your levels of energy like? Do you feel rejuvenated and full of life when you wake up in the morning or are you struggling to sleep and need to resort to multiple caffeine or sugar hits during the day just to stay alert and focused.
- What is your problem-solving ability like? Do you feel mentally sharp and on the ball, or do you find yourself feeling mentally foggy and uncreative.
- Where do you find your thoughts gravitating towards? Are you casting a pessimistic net over the world of doom and gloom, blaming and shaming yourself or others for everything that is going wrong in your life or do you feel empowered to navigate through the toughest times while holding firmly onto your integrity?
If any of these areas are being negatively affected in any way, you may have tipped the scales towards unhealthy levels of stress.
When you are constantly under stress, you can have physical symptoms, emotional distress, depression, anxiety, or panic attacks. Knowing when you are tipping the scales from too much stress to just the right amount of stress is crucial to your wellbeing, health and ability to function optimally in a world that demands our attention and action.
Creating a daily record of how you are feeling, what is going on for you and how your body is responding can be immensely valuable in bring awareness to any routines, habits or rhythms that you have slipped into that are no longer supporting you. As you bring awareness to things that have resided on unconscious levels, you can begin to make adjustments, you can catch yourself in unhealthy and unsupportive acts. You can start to put systems and process in place that support you to feel a joyous vitality for life and a zest for living – without compromising your health, or your life in any way.
As we are bringing another year to a close, it is a great opportunity for you to bring to your awareness what has built up over the year and what are you holding onto. Are you aware of rushing to get things done before the year ends, and any pressures and stresses that have accumulated along the way. Do you have any major commitments or responsibilities which are pressuring you? December is usually a time where we reconnect with family, and this can bring with it a host of obligations or commitments which could trigger stress.
Unless you are aware of what is happening and how you are reacting mentally, physically or emotionally, you will be unable to curb the negative effects of stress. Take note, watch, be curious and begin to recognise the difference in you when you are healthy and vibrant and when you are overloading your system.
How to manage stress
Here are some tips on how to notice and manage stress
- Not getting lost in your thoughts – and disconnecting from unhealthy or unsupportive thoughts.
- Be engaged in the here and now – not matter what you are doing.
- Pay curious attention to what is happening in now. Notice sensations, feelings, physical responses.
- Bring a curious sense of wonder to the mundane in your life, as if you are experiencing something for the first time. Engage all your sensory inputs in relation to your experience.
- Ground yourself to the present moment – which will help you to balance yourself, release emotional distress, and anxious thoughts. Use grounding to slow your racing thoughts, racing heart or sense of urgency to act and be busy with doing.
- Practice self-compassion, be patient and kind with yourself, give yourself space, focus on your strengths and what you have the energy and capacity to do right now.
The following exercises have been recommended by the World Health Organisation as tools to recognise and manage stress.
- Awareness of drinking – this exercise helps to engage all of your senses into the present moment so that you can more consciously aware of what is going on for you physically, emotionally and mentally.
- Grounding – this exercise shows you what grounding is and how to consciously ground yourself on a regular basis.
Resilience is an essential ingredient in stress management, as it helps us to navigate life in a more conscious, grounded and supportive way.
What is resilience?
- Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. It is a certain toughness, an ability to bounce back from setbacks in life.
- Resilience is the ability to face the difficulties of life without descending into despair or unhealthy behaviours. It is a strength to deal with stress and hardship.
- According to Dr Ginsburg, a human development expert, there are 7 integral and interrelated components to resiliency. Competence, Confidence, Connection, Character, Contribution, Coping, Control
- Resilience also encompasses the pillars of self-awareness, mindfulness, selfcare, positive relationships and purpose.
How to build resilience and cope with life’s challenges
- Bring relaxation into your day – watch when you have become stressed and are tensing up your physical body – how can you let go?
- Awareness of where you are in your thoughts, what you are doing in your actions, and how you are feeling in your physical body.
- Notice your view or perspective on life – is it leaning towards victim mentality, or are you focused on what is within your strengths and capacity to take on.
- Learn and grow from your experiences, and mistakes. Nothing happens by accident, and each experience is an opportunity for us to grow deeper into the truth of who we are.
- Make decisions from your inner wisdom – allow yourself to respond in ways that are supportive and healthy for you.
- Learn to trust yourself.
- Release yourself from the grips of pressure, stress, anxiety and surrender to the flow of life.
- Surround yourself with supportive people who can help you see what you cannot and can guide you to recognise your strengths when you cannot.
- Each time you bounce back or are able to navigate through the hardships and obstacle of life, while staying aligned and true to your authentic self – recognise this.
- The ability to face adversity and maintain integrity is a capacity that we develop, just like building a muscle, so each time you have an opportunity to practice, do so with awareness, focus and flow.
Human Design and managing stress
Understanding the nuances of your Human Design can be extremely beneficial in helping you to see where you are susceptible to stress and pressure, where you are likely to feel anxiety and nervousness. Where you are pulled into your shadow aspect and how you are taken off track from living aligned vs operating through unhealthy stress. Knowing the dynamics and energies inherent in your design can give you the tools to navigate stress in healthy and supportive ways, and where to be very clear on where not to take action and where not to make decisions that could have you operating in unhealthy and unsupportive ways.
If you would prefer to listen to the audio of this blog post:
Human Design and BG5 (Human Design for Business) both bring awareness into your life. They help you sift through what you are holding onto - your shadow - and enable you to let go.
With the letting go comes the ability to embrace the truth of who you are with wide open arms.
As a guide I can help you on this journey. I can guide you to know and trust yourself.
If you are would like to explore whether Human Design or BG5 are for you, then please book in a strategy session and we can invesitage how to move you from where you are to living aligned with success.
Aliging you to success.
BG5 Business & Career, Cycles and OC16 Consultant & Human Design Guide