Last week, twice during the same day, I had conversations with two very different people who were each at about a “9” on the “feeling overwhelmed” scale. At the end of the conversation, both said unprompted, “I got so much less stressed after talking with you. I feel so much better.”
I remember thinking that I hadn’t really done anything but hear them out. I was so pleased to have helped them talk through their issue(s), pinpoint ways to break the problem(s) down, and leave the conversation feeling relieved and re-energized. It got me thinking about how our mind can spin around in circles when we’re feeling overwhelmed, and how important it is to have an outlet to express ourselves.
Basically, sometimes we need to vent (in a productive way of course).
When faced with a person experiencing stress spiraling out of control, I focus on getting to the crux of a key question and ask him/her, “What can you do right now to reduce the feeling that you’re going to burst?” Often it’s just a matter of getting it off one’s chest, looking at the problem(s) through a different lens, breaking it down to manageable action steps - and practicing deep breathing of course.
When we’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, the body feels it both physically and emotionally, and reacts. It’s built to! How we each deal with stress is unique, but the impact on us is important to understand so you can avoid long-term health issues.
To break it down, the body activates the nervous system and specific hormones. The brain tells your glands to produce more of the stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, and to flood them into your bloodstream. These hormones set your body into emergency action – your heart rate speeds up, breathing quickens, blood pressure rises, and your senses become heightened. This all happens to help your body prepare you to deal with pressure – to fight or flight from the danger at hand - which is also known as a stress response. When this natural reaction works correctly, the body’s stress response improves your ability to perform well under pressure. Sometimes this is good, like when faced with a life-threatening emergency. Think being chased by a ferocious animal in the jungle (or NYC taxi heading right at you). In those instances you want your body to jump into hyper mode and protect itself.
However, chronic stress response, when happening day in and day out, is exhausting and taxing on your body. Whether it from internal factors such as excessive worry, or external factors such as an overwhelming work schedule, relationship issue or even upcoming happy event like a new home or marriage, can cause long term health issues.
That’s the kind we want to figure out how to manage, or otherwise risk causing premature aging, inflammation and life-threatening illness.
So let’s look at stress as neither good nor bad, just a unique response. The key question is how you handle it. Do you approach if from a position of positivity and power, or of defeat and exasperation?
We all have become very familiar with what stress feels like. Try to balance that with what it feels like to calm your reaction and respond with strength, control, confidence and positivity.
Follow my top three tips for managing stress:
Talk about it! Take a deep breathe and reach out to a trusted colleague or friend (from among that supportive circle you surround yourself with!) to talk through what’s on your mind. And by talk, be careful not to frame it as a whining or bashing session! I’ll bet once you hear yourself speak through the issue(s) out loud, you’ll be able to re-approach the situation with new verve and effectiveness. If you aren’t comfortable talking with someone you know well, you could always hire a health coach like me.
Get some fresh air! Literally, step away for 5 minutes, take a quick walk, sit on a bench, or walk around the block. Fresh air breaks are proven to increase focus and productivity. You don't have 5 minutes you say? Well I’m pretty sure you’re wasting at least that spinning in circles in your mind. So stop, get outside and I promise you will gain new perspective and come back to the issue rejuvenated and feeling like a new person. If you can speed up that walk, you’ll release endorphins and improve your mood just like that!
Write it down! I’m a big believer in getting whatever is gnawing at you, out of your head and onto paper. Just for you, not to share with anyone else (please do NOT hit send on that seething email you just wrote to your boss. Just get it out of your system for you, and delete it!). My husband sometimes finds me writing notes on my iPhone in the middle of the night and thinks I’m insane. However, if something is circling around in my head while I’m trying to sleep, I don't have a restful night. Once I get it out, I no longer have to worry about it – it’ll be there in the morning so I can relax and tackle it then. Practicing Julia Cameron’s “morning pages” is also a great routine to get into. It’s the practice of upon waking, you write down your dreams from the previous night, 10 things you’re grateful for, and then a stream of consciousness. My first blog entry came out of practicing morning pages!
And of course, don’t forget the benefits of deep breathing. In my workshops and coaching, the change I see in people after literally 60 seconds of deep breathing is transformative.
What are some practices that you have integrated into your life to deal with stress? Let’s talk about it!
Marjorie, Chief MOJO Maker™