Stress affects everyone, and tbh: it’s like the pain in the ass cousin to our old familiar frenemy: fear! 

With fear, our minds think of worst case scenarios and if we don’t think through ways to overcome it, we just hold ourselves back. Fear forces us to stay in our protected little bubble, not taking those necessary leaps of faith, only to realize in the future what could’ve been if we didn’t let our minds talk us out of it. 

With stress, our mind is constantly checking in with itself to see if we’re still stressing about the very thing we’re trying not to stress about. It clouds our mind, makes us unproductive, unmotivated… and sometimes even unhinged. It’s like being on a diet. How many times have you thought, “I won’t have sweets” and all of a sudden you can’t stop thinking about not having sweets. Our brain checks in with us constantly, asking: are you thinking about the thing you’re not supposed to be thinking about? 

So stressful! 

Understanding Stress

Stress can be positive or negative.

Positive stress is called eustress and it’s actually that insane burst of energy that increases productivity, motivates performance, and can actually feel like an exciting rush! This could be anything from preparing for an interview, planning your wedding, or getting ready for the holidays. 

Negative stress, however, is called distress, and it can be short term or long term chronic stress. This type of stress has the opposite effect of positive stress. It decreases performance, causes us to worry or fear, and can cause physical or mental strain. Our body’s response to distress is the same as when it thinks it’s in a dangerous situation: sending signals to the body to face the threat or flee to safety. Your pulse quickens, you breathe faster, your muscles tense, and your brain uses more oxygen – all functions aimed at survival and in response to stress. 

Long-term or chronic stress is a bitch! It can cause headaches, sleeplessness, sadness, anger, or irritability. And the lifesaving reactions in the body can disturb the immune, digestive, cardiovascular, sleep, and reproductive systems. Over time, that continued strain on your body from stress may contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, including mental disorders such as depression or anxiety.

During this unprecedented time in isolation and with the world totally upside down, especially, it’s important to tune into your mental health and stressors to prevent distress from getting out of control.

There are a number of stressors (according to the National Institute of Mental Health), which can be as common as routine stress like the pressures of school, work, family, and other daily responsibilities. Or it can be brought on by a sudden negative change, such as losing a job, divorce, or illness. Traumatic stress is experienced during an event such as a major accident, war, assault, natural disaster- or, perhaps…a global pandemic. 

While people who experience traumatic stress may have very distressing temporary emotional and physical symptoms, most do recover naturally soon after, or after seeking help with therapy. The important thing is to recognize that this stress is real, and manage it head on before it wrecks long term havoc on your mind and body.

It’s not always easy to manage stress on your own, and the problems that arise because of it can be quite challenging if left unchecked!

But there are some practical steps you can take right now. Here are some tips that may help you to cope with stress:

 

When to say “Yes to the Stress”

  • When it reveals deeper issues or patterns. Listen to it, like you would a friend: When you feel stressed, instead of trying to force yourself to stop feeling the stress, try to figure out why you are feeling that way and what the triggers are or the source. Simply trying to avoid it may just keep the wound open. Be observant. Recognize the signs of your body’s response to stress, such as difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol and other substance use, being easily angered, feeling depressed, and having low energy. 
  • When it reveals something that is important to you. We stress about things we care about. So if you’re stressed, it means something- so try  to find the positive motivation or personal value behind our stress. You might initially say, “I stress about work and I don’t even like my job.” But maybe it’s not actually about your job and you need to dig a little deeper to find the root cause. Maybe your stress comes from not wanting to do something (or anything) poorly or not wanting to be viewed as incompetent by your boss or colleagues. Sometimes I stress about little things, but they’re things that matter deeply to me. Every year for Friendsgiving I make the turkey but every year, without fail, I stress about how it will turn out. The whole day I’m excited for the party but on edge until we begin to carve the bird – and it took me a long time to realize that that stress wasn’t just about the turkey – it’s about what the turkey means. I show love to my family and friends through cooking and if I served them a crappy bird, it would not communicate that love.
  • When it motivates you. Sometimes stress pushes you to achieve things you couldn’t without the little extra nudge of healthy stress. When this happens, don’t stress about the fact that you might be in the situation you’re in, but instead use it to ride the momentum.
  • When it helps you find solutions to your problems. Finding your way out of things that stress you out will help alleviate the burden. As an example, if you stress about responding to every single email throughout the day, rather than spending more time a day to clear out your inbox, establish some boundaries. Let your colleagues and clients know they can call you or set up time to talk about something. Everything doesn’t have to be an email. Or conversely, if you get too many calls that it makes your head spin, ask people to send you a text or email and you’ll get back to them, or that you will call if something requires more discussion. 

 

When to “Just say no”

  • A common cause of stress is having too much to do and too little time to do it – and it’s usually something we bring upon ourselves by not setting appropriate boundaries with others and within ourselves. A common pitfall of us all! 
  • When it doesn’t align with your goals and priorities. Decide what must get done now and what can wait. Learn to say “no” to new tasks if you start to feel like you’re taking on too much. Try to be mindful of what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.
  • When you need to rest. Many of us struggle with finding balance in our lives, and sometimes our mental and physical response to overwhelming stress is a signal from the universe that you need to step back, pause, and take a break.
  • When it starts to affect your relationship with others. Often our relationships with others will start to be affected before we realize the stress in our own bodies and minds. Pay attention to how your interactions are changing with those closest to you, and listen to your confidants when they tell you – either overtly or through withdrawal or reactivity – that you need to chill. 

 

When to be like Elsa and “Let it Go”

  • When you don’t actually have control over the situation – like many of us right now. If you literally cannot do anything to change or control what is happening, then it is time to take a deep breath and surrender.  Only time and space will reveal the solution and path, and the more you fight it and stress about it, the more unnecessary suffering you will create in your mind and body.

 

Some ways to cope with stress, especially right now

  • Understand your stressors and triggers. If you can control it then it can’t control you.
  • Get regular exercise. Just 30 minutes per day of walking can help boost your mood and improve your health.
  • Try a relaxing activity. Explore relaxation or wellness programs, which may incorporate meditation, muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises. Schedule regular times for these and other healthy and relaxing activities.
  • Eliminate alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant, and can decrease healthy sleep cycles and dredge up extra emotion, increasing your stress and decreasing your ability to cope with it.
  • Sleep! Sleep is essential to recharging your mind and body, and a healthy sleep habits and a well rested brain can increase your ability to handle whatever stress comes your way.
  • Stay connected. You are not alone. Keep in touch with people who can provide emotional support and practical help. To reduce stress, ask for help from friends, family, and community or religious organizations.
  • Seek Help. Don’t wait for your health care provider to ask about your stress: start the conversation and get proper health care for existing or new health problems. Treatments like talk therapy and support groups can help if your stress is affecting your relationships or ability to work. Don’t know where to start? Read some tips from the National Institute of Healh for Talking With Your Health Care Provider.

 

During this crisis, it’s easy to misjudge ourselves and we often find ourselves wondering if we are doing all that we can. Did we make the most of this opportunity to learn and grow personally, to connect with loved ones, and to prepare for the next time we face a crisis? 

It’s so incredibly important to be kind to yourself right now, and understand that it is a radical act of self care to listen to your intuition and take a break from doing and growing and figuring it all out when your body and mind are telling you to pause. 

You don’t have to always be doing

Understand that we are living through something that has no blueprint or precedent, and we’re all just doing the best we possibly can with the circumstances we find ourselves in. 

Focus on the important things right now, what you can control and what you cannot. And what is completely in your hands is taking great care of your health – mind, body, and spirit – a big part of that is managing your stress response.

And in that process, more than ever, our mindset matters most. And if that mindset can be one of self-forgiveness, loving kindness, and self-care, we are absolutely winning at life during COVID.

And no matter the stress or situation you are currently experiencing, try to remember: you have gone through a lot in your life, and have come out stronger and wiser for it. You will get through this too, and eventually, with hindsight, understand why this stress has come into your life!

 

author

lisa val verde

COO/CMO

Singapore

During her 10+ years marketing everything from concept to commercialization on a global landscape, Lisa has found that her greatest opportunity is to empower and encourage any woman with a burning passion and a desire for change to pursue whatever lights her spirit on fire. With Wildernest, Lisa is able to help other women break down their own walls to achieve their full potential, and enable a community of passionate women to create thriving businesses and become catalysts for change.

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