85% of UK adults report experiencing regular stress episodes, 39% report that it is to excessive levels. And the most commonly reported reasons are work or money.
Without it though we would probably not achieve little of significance. At low levels it motivates and calls to action. Yet it is rarely recognised in this positive context.
The problem these days is that the levels we experience are more sustained. We are carrying unhealthy levels of stress around with us, and this is impacting both our personal and professional lives. We need to develop the tools to handle it, ideally to relieve it.
Take 5 represents a simple model which we can all follow to improve our awareness and to help us address it.
We need to be able to recognise our stress, or our behaviours that are reactions to it. Whether we do this via self-reflection or observation, or seeking feedback it does not matter. The objective is to learn to see those situations or circumstances that trigger it.
We also need to connect with the sensations in our bodies which can be early signs of rising stress, be it quickening of the pulse, tightening of the muscles, or whatever. Stress reactions can manifest itself in our sympathetic nervous system, being aware of how yours reacts can be a call to action, a subtle warning that tells us to seek relief.
Stress is often so natural a sensation for us in the current era that we rarely recognise the low levels constantly running within. If we can connect with even these lower levels we can make a choice about whether we need to permit this situation. Awareness invites us to choose.
Taking time to develop awareness helps us to recognise the landmarks on the map of our mental and emotional environment.
Our breath is often the first casualty of our stress reactions, it becomes unbalanced or shallow, which in turn then heightens the stress reaction. More positively it can be the easiest tool to counter the physical reaction to stress.
The parasympathetic nervous system – which acts as a bodily reset after fight or flight – is directly activated by our breath. So stop and breathe. Make sure that your exhale is at least as long, ideally longer than your inhale. In a perfect scenario, breathe in for a count of 3 and out for 5. It is that exhale where the magic happens.
Taking a breathe, takes the pressure off.
Take a moment…
In a time of constant demand and distraction, when do we really have time to reflect on everything that is calling upon our attention. Great businesses all advocate reflective time.
Find time in the day to reflect on the to-do list. Both personal and professional as it is not just in the office where stress arises, we only have one stress handling mechanism and it does not differentiate between work and home.
Take the time to review the different priorities, and maybe some of those things that don’t need to be these as we have no influence over them. We can also work with simple reflection models that provide an objective framework from which we can assess.
Taking that moment takes back some control.
As everyone was told as a child, a problem shared is a problem halved … there is something cathartic in talking with another.
We are social beings and are hard wired to seek and offer help to others. The sensation of being heard is incredibly important, in that exchange there are dopamine and oxytocin releases for both parties, both very positive counteractions to the more toxic affects of the stress chemicals.
The act of putting something into words is frequently a relief, once expressed it can seem less overbearing.
Taking the time to talk connects us the with compassion and empathy of others
When stress really takes over it often feels like something that we cannot escape.
Biologically it is often a call to action, a need for fight or flight. Simply getting up and moving can lighten the sensation, research has proved that the moving body is much less prone to stress. We are born to move but we have created a very sedentary life – at work and at home. Our body expects to move and we too often deny. The very act of immobility is in itself a stressor.
In addition, the act of getting up and moving can shift perspective. Suddenly things do not seem so bad.
Even better find open green spaces – nature is a great therapist, NHS Scotland are even now prescribing it.
Taking time to move shows us that we can step out of the overbearing shadows of stress.
Stress is a naturally occurring phenomena and like most things in nature the antidote is often close to hand. We do not need complex cognitive exercises or explorations just to develop the right awareness and practice.