Stresses and stressors
In these unprecedented times many of us are dealing with more and new stresses. Some of us have gone through illness, grief, uncertainty, isolation and various other challenges. Some of us have carried the worries and stresses of others vicariously as we talk to close friends and relatives, watch the news, and check social media feeds.
Most of us can easily identify the cause of the stress (the stressors) - a tricky relationship in work or personally, repeated project deadlines, excessive work hours etc. We can also identify the emotions these stresses cause us to experience. We may also be able to take steps to remove some of the stressors from our lives, either temporarily or more permanently.
However, if we are able to remove the stressor, we may often expect the stress associated with that stressor to go away, and yet it remains, and sometimes even gets worse. This is because our body is still processing the events physiologically and neurologically. Left unchecked, as we go from one stressful thing to the next, the emotional exhaustion this causes can lead us to burnout. It is important for us to recognise these lingering emotional stresses and the cumulative effect they are having on us.
The good news is that there are things we can do to address this emotional exhaustion and reduce the stress we experience. Certainly removing the stressors, or removing ourselves from the stressors, is helpful but if we stop there the emotions are still in us, having ongoing negative effects. Chronic stress has been shown to suppress your immune system, upset your digestive and reproductive systems, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and speed up the ageing process.
Research shows that, once triggered, these emotional responses to stressful situations, that fire through our bodies instantly and automatically, can be curtailed with specific actions. We have the power to calm these emotions thereby improving both our emotional and physical health.
There are seven things we can do to help, and this simple mantra helps me remember them:
Move, breathe, relate. Hug, laugh, cry, create.
exercise is the most effective of the seven. This can be any form of movement or exercise - walking, jogging, cycling, swimming etc and if dancing round the kitchen is your thing, go for it!
There’s a lot of material about the benefit of breathing exercises. The recommended breathing for stress is as follows and called diaphragmatic breathing:
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. Keep your shoulders relaxed.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth. As you blow air out, purse your lips slightly, but keep your jaw relaxed.
- Repeat these breathes. Do it for several minutes until you start to feel better.
This means social interaction. Pick up the phone and chat or arrange to meet for a coffee. The chat doesn’t have to be about the stressors and stresses. Just catching up, using up some words and relating to someone is helpful.
A 20 second full embrace hug. Just let yourself melt into it. Most of us know people who are good huggers and this simple act of physical contact really has beneficial effects.
One of those deep belly aching laughs - maybe while relating? Find what tickles you and just let go.
Don’t be afraid to let it all out. It’s great and won’t last too long. No need to be afraid this will take over and go on forever. Reflect on what’s been going on and let yourself give in to the emotions and if they want to come out as a good cry, let it. Those that do this say that if you really give in to it then it just runs its course and is done - and you really feel better.
Let the creative juices flow, whatever is your thing. Set aside some time to do one of your hobbies. Craft work, painting, cooking, gardening, playing a musical instrument, singing, dancing etc.
As you can see it’s easy to combine a few of these together to magnify the effect and doing them with a friend or relative will benefit them too. Remember they work, so do them with intentionality
(Credit: This is my short summary and reflection based on some learning from the book Burnout by Amelia and Emily Nagoski. If you haven’t got time to read the book I can also recommend Brene Brown’s podcast, Dare to Lead, where she chats to Amelia and Emily.)