What Causes Stress?
All of us encounter stress on a daily basis, from physical, emotional and mental well being. These minor forms of stress we often barely notice, but they can quickly become chronic ongoing stressors. It is this ongoing stress and elevated cortisol levels that is the most detrimental to long term health. These can be in the form of work stress, body image, Social pressure, competition, health worries, life changes, bereavement, relationships and past events.
So what can you do about it? – Notice YOUR triggers!
It important to understand and recognize your own limits when it comes to stress. Just how much stress you can tolerate differs from person to person, and each individuals version of ‘too much’ will be different.
So what influences your stress tolerance?
A Support Network! – Having a strong network of supportive friends and family members is an enormous buffer against stress. When you have people you can count on, life’s pressures don’t seem as overwhelming. On the flip side, the lonelier and more isolated you are, the greater your risk of succumbing to stress.
A sense of control – Having confidence in yourself and your abilities to persevere through challenges can make it easier to take stress in your stride. On the other hand, if you feel you have little control over your life then any stressors that come along are more likely to knock you off course
Your attitude – The way you approach life and its challenges makes a bit difference in your ability to handle stress. If you generally take a positive outlook you will be less vulnerable.
Ability to deal with emotions – If you do not have the tools to come yourself when dealing with strong emotions, chances are you will be more stressed and agitated. Developing the ability to objectively look at a situation and your emotional response, you can increase your tolerance to stress that arises.
Knowledge – The more information you have in a stressful situation, the better you are to cope. E.g. going into an operation with a realistic idea of the post-surgery recovery period.
So how to you improve your ability to handle stress?
As we know not all stress is bad, AND that we have different tolerance levels, what skills can you use to develop this tolerance? That is where meditation, listening to your body (We mean REALLY listening, gut instinct), paying attention to your sleeping, eating and exercising patterns and looking out for any changes comes in.
Example: You have been consistently working on your strength training at the gym, training 6-7 days per week for 3 months. For the first 2 months you feel yourself getting noticeably stronger each week, but lately you’ve hit a plateau, are feeling tired not energized after a workout and lack the strength to do what you were a few weeks prior. Provided nothing has changed with your sleep and nutritional patterns, this could be an indication that your body has become chronically stressed.
Each workout places a small amount of good stress on the body. When done it causes positive changes, however beyond a certain point – your individual tolerance level, it may become detrimental to your goals.The same goes for a work project or when dealing with family members. Ever heard the saying “A little goes a long way”? Sometimes spending too much time on a certain task can send us bonkers!
Tools you can use:
- Meditation – now i know i get questions all the time on this one “How do i meditate”, or “i don’t know how”, or “it doesn’t work for me” or “I don’t have the time”. Well there is no right or wrong way to meditate. If it hasn’t worked for you in the past, doesn’t mean it won’t work know, you may just not have found the right type for YOU. A great app i use is insight timer, a free meditation app available on both android and ios. It has over 100,000 different types of meditation so you will definitely find one that works for you. If you have never done any type of meditation, i recommend starting small. Start with a 1-5 min guided meditation and play around with the tracks till you find a voice or tone you enjoy.
- Monitoring sleep patterns – do you go to bed at the same time every night? If you normal have a regular bed time, or at least a bedtime range; monitoring sleep patterns can be a very beneficial indicator of stress. If you are suddenly getting a few hours more or less each night it is worth addressing. A lack of sleep could indicate your mind is racing with stressful thoughts and keeping you awake. Similarly if you are oversleeping, your body may be too physically or emotionally stressed.
- Nutrition – The food you eat can affect your emotions and the ability to cope with stress. Eating a diet of processed and refined carbohydrate can worsen symptoms of stress. I know i know, when your stressed all you feel like is reaching for the chocolate! Well try some brain food instead!. Foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids give energy to your brain. This will help regulate your emotions, reduce inflammation in the body and help you to cope better. Some good food choices include salmon, leafy greens, MCT oil, olives, olive oil, macadamia nuts and seeds.
- Exercise – Regular exercise, especially in a group setting with like-minded women is extremely beneficial to reducing stress levels. Not only are you getting the benefits of exercise ( increases in serotonin, reduction of blood sugar and elevated mood), but you also have a strong support network to rely on for support and encouragement. This can go a LONG way to improving your outlook on stressful situations.
We each deal with stress differently, but it’s important to develop a stress management plan that works for you.
- Identify your stress tolerance level
- Identify your triggers
- Figure out which stress management strategies works for you. This can be individual or a combination of things
- Develop and execute your plan before you reach your ‘too much’.
Not only will you be happier yourself by following these 4 steps, but your relationships with those around you will also be improved.