How to use your stress response to create a more positive life
There’s no escaping the fact that, by the end of 2016, I was close to burn out: I’d had my fair share of personal dramas and got to feeling that the world was against me. I talked about this with a friend recently and she said something that really resonated with me; she said that sometimes things “go wrong” in life when we’re stuck in a rut or on the wrong path and need to kick ourselves up the butt to spur us into action. And I realised that this was completely true in my case: a lot of what I experienced (rather than what “happened to me” I had manifested myself), I was still following the frequently followed path (mortgage, “steady” 9-5 etc) which was going completely against my every natural instinct.
I ended up having a full hormone assessment, during a gap in all the crazy, and found that my adrenal glands were severely distressed and this put things into perspective for me. I took some time to really think about what was going on in my body and my brain and this made me explore a few things:
- Is there really such a thing as short term stress?
- Had I created a rift between my mind and body?
- Was I alone in feeling this way?
So, do I have answers to these questions? Two yeses and a no, in short. Basically, powering through “short term” stressful situations and forcing our bodies into submission creates a disconnect between mind and body – we start ignoring the cues our bodies give us, refuse to slow down and practice unkind behaviours towards ourselves for signs of “weakness”. There’s no short term result from this scenario; repeated spikes in cortisol and adrenaline in our systems can have a profound and lasting impact longer term. This seems to be the new normal.
Normalisation: the long term effects of short term stress
Given our hectic lifestyles, our need to be forever busy, always on and not feeling able to put ourselves first we find ourselves becoming normalised to stress then suffer from burn out, anxiety or panic. A combination of family issues, low self esteem and living with an undiagnosed autoimmune disease led to me becoming completely programmed to live life on the “highs” of a stress response as a teenager. I’ve spent a large portion of the past 28 years focused on dealing with each stressful situation as it occurred; powering through with frayed nerves and an exhausted system from one scenario to another, then wondered why these things kept happening…
Remember – you will make decisions in a stressed state you wouldn’t make when calm
I don’t believe that adages such as “bad things come in 3s” have much credence but they can become a self fulfilling prophecy – stressed people can bring about extra stressful situations. That’s not to say you’re to blame for every negative experience, obviously, and you absolutely shouldn’t beat yourself up for things that happen (who will that help?) but when we take time to reflect once we’ve created a calm space for ourselves, we often see that there are ways we could avoid reaching crunch points…
Listen when your body gives you a physical nudge
We tend to ignore the warning signs our body gives us when we’re getting overwhelmed with stress. We bury our heads in the sand and ignore the signs, believing that our bodies are revolting against us, rather than the other way around. Reaching for the coffee to prop you up? Societal norms tend to leave us thinking that leaning on caffeine in these situations won’t have too much of an impact. Do you really believe that the coffee will fix how you’re feeling? Be mindful of how you treat your body when things are getting out of control.
Give yourself space to reflect post scenario
Once things have calmed down a bit, make sure you allow yourself time to process events, check in with how your body is feeling and make extra time for self care. Forcing yourself “back to normal” after a stressful event piles stress on top of stress – be kind to yourself.
Be ruthless about cutting out things causing you to feel stressed
If you’ve got to the stage where you feel weighed down by stress, it’s probably time to get a bit ruthless. Reduce contact with “mood hovers” or stress triggers. Choose you. Don’t tolerate things that make you unhappy, get comfortable with being self-ish and saying no. Remember you only get one shot at life and making yourself less you to make others “happier” won’t allow you to live that one life to the fullest.
How are you feeling today? Don’t suffer in silence – feeling stressed isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s our bodies responding to the pressure around us – DM me any time for a chat if this has resonated with you. Stay well X