Coping With Stress in Stressful Times
By Jen Wood
Our guide to coping with stress. It feels like stress is on the rise everywhere at the moment. Covid stress, job stress, financial stress, relationship stress and the stress associated with ongoing physical distancing and isolation as we approach winter. All of these and more are building up to create an increasingly difficult situation for many of us. So I'd like to explore what stress is and offer some tips on coping with stress and alleviate it.
What is Stress?
The word ‘stress’ often has negative connotations and can be associated with feelings of shame. However, it’s a natural human response to a change, pressure or a threat which requires us to adapt. For many of us, pivoting to working from home while home-schooling children was a highly stressful situation.
Daily life can be stressful, and our response to it can depend on our personality and how resourced or resilient we feel at the time. While low level stress can be motivating, long term or chronic stress can have significant impact on our mental and physical wellbeing, causing a type of exhaustion which is often called burnout.
Stress might show up in different scenarios. It may feel like frustration when we don’t get what we want. It may cause us to put pressure on ourselves and others to meet demanding standards. It may result in conflict when we have a clash of ‘rules’, values with someone. Finally, it often arises when we experience transitions or life changes, like a relationship ending or changing, a bereavement, redundancy or a rupture in a friendship.
The Different Types of Stress
- Stress can be classified as acute, when in response to a specific event, usually with an endpoint.
- It can be traumatic, when the stressful event has the potential to trigger Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
- Chronic stress is continuous with no foreseeable endpoint.
- Finally, episodic acute stress, caused by repeated stressful events.
Stress can impact us in different ways. It can have a physical impact, when we experience the effect of increased levels of stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol in the body. It can impact us emotionally, when we experience anxiety, fear, anger, overwhelm and hopelessness. It also impacts our behaviour as there may be things that we do more of when we’re stressed, like drinking alcohol, and things we do less of like exercise. However, there are more positive ways for coping with stress.
Stress - what can we do about it?
Please note that these stress management tips are intended to help, however, if you have been experiencing stress for some time and you realise that it’s impacting your daily life, it may be helpful for you to consider further support.
There are various things that my clients have found helpful in coping with stress and I would like to share some of these tips with you.
Stress tip # 1 – Sleep Well
Sleep is the foundation to good mental and physical health. If you aren’t sleeping well, you are more vulnerable to stress. Consider improving your sleep hygiene and practising mindfulness and relaxation. For more information about sleep check out our recent sleep blog post.
Stress tip # 2 – Be as organised as possible
The more that you can plan ahead, and anticipate any complications in advance, the less activated
your threat system will be.
Stress tip # 3 – Exercise
The quickest way to change out of a stressful state is to move the body. Therefore going for a walk or a run is great but you could try a jump around on a mini trampoline in the garden or a bike ride. However, you might enjoy the current enthusiasm for wild swimming or just getting outdoors and taking in the beauty of nature.
Stress tip # 4 – Breathe
Using the breath as an anchor or support for your attention can bring you to the present moment. This can help to settle the threat system (fight and flight), which will start to activate the soothing system (rest and digest).
Stress tip # 5 – Connect
Making contact with someone and having a chat can sometimes diffuse a build up of stress. Even in these times of physical distancing, it’s incredible what a telephone call or a video chat can do to help manage our stress levels.
Stress tip # 6 – Gratitude
Before you go to bed, remember three things about the day that went well or that you feel grateful for. It’s very useful to write them down. Therefore, you re-live the positive emotion using all your senses and as a result you will gain the maximum benefit.
Stress tip # 7 – Take a Self-Compassion Break
If you experience a difficult or stressful situation, see if you can lean into the stress for
a moment and feel it in your body.
Step-by-step: Coping with Stress
~ This is a moment of difficulty. That’s mindfulness.
Say to yourself, ‘This is a difficult/stressful moment’ or ‘this is a moment of suffering’. Use your own words and it will be more powerful.
~ Suffering is part of life. That’s common humanity.
‘Other people feel this way’. ‘We all experience suffering and stess’. ‘I’m not alone’.
~ Put one or both hands over your heart.
Feel the warmth of your hands and the gentle touch of your hands on your chest or another place that feels soothing.
Now say to yourself whatever you need to hear to ease the stress or suffering.
Some suggestions are:
May I be kind to myself
May I give myself the compassion that I need
May I learn to accept myself as I am
May I forgive myself
May I be strong.
May I be patient
If we can accept ourselves, and the events in our lives, and look after ourselves, we can cope and overcome stress, build our resilience and experience more wellbeing. How can you look after yourself today?
Jen Wood is a coach, therapist and mindfulness teacher with 20 years’ experience. She is also our Wellbeing Consultant at Dalkeith Country Park. Jen offers individual wellbeing coaching, therapy and mindfulness sessions via Zoom or by phone.
For more information about Jen, visit her website at jenwoodwellbeing.com.