Stress and the physical discomfort associated with stress are one of the leading causes of people reaching out to physicians or therapists for support. When we refer to stress, we often mean feelings of discomfort and overwhelm based on current life events. We can feel stressed when we feel overworked; when we are going through difficult times in relationships; when we are struggling with an illness; or even when someone we love is struggling in their own lives.
Stress is defined as "a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances". How "very demanding circumstances" is interpreted is personal to each individual. What can feel overwhelming to one person doesn't register onto another person's consciousness. We each must honestly and without judgement evaluate our own levels of stress.
Getting to know how stress impacts our mental, emotional and physical world is one of the most important lessons we can learn. It allows us to be in a state of self awareness, while also allowing us to take action when the stress levels get too high and begins to impact our well-being.
Below are 4 powerful tools to begin to gain mastery over stress:
Evaluate the Levels- We can begin to use a scale to evaluate our stress levels on a regular basis. Using a scale of 1-10 (one is low and 10 is high) can be very helpful to begin to get familiar with our current state of stress. Also, beginning to see how stress fluctuates throughout the days or week can also be helpful data.
Define the Source- we can ask what are the circumstances or thoughts playing out in our lives that we believe are contributing to the stress. Often stress can feel undefined... after all it is just a word. Knowing what is happening in our lives that is causing the stress can help us gain better understanding as well as help us take action.
Notice Body Sensations - Where is stress showing up in our physical body. Tightness, tension, vibrations, heat... there are so many possible body sensations we may feel when we are stressed. And each person experiences the sensations differently. Gaining this awareness allows us to take action sooner to help our bodies feel more relaxed.
Create a Strategy- having a stress management (or de-stressing) routine is a priority. For some people taking a walk in nature, even for only 20 minutes, is shown to reduce stress signals in the body. Going onto YouTube and finding a short guided meditation can bring us back to our bodies and release accumulated tension. Calling a trusted and supportive friend or loved one and sharing our burdens can help recalibrate our nervous systems. Eat a healthy meal- taking care of ourselves in one area is a beautiful honoring of our well-being.
Although stress is a common theme in our culture and difficult to avoid, many people wait too long to create a stress management plan. Many often ignore or minimize the signs and symptoms of stress until they are so aggravating and intolerable that we need professional help. Addressing stress directly creates a sense of empowerment within us and allows us to feel more engaged and capable to manage life's events.