Stress doesn’t have the best reputation.
We tend to think of stress as something bad that should be avoided at all costs.
But stress has its place and is a natural part of what it means to be alive.
Stress tells us when there’s a wild animal chasing after us and we need to run, it tells us when something we’ve been doing isn’t working for us, and it tells us when we need to take action to change things.
Stress is a kind of communication. It’s a brain and nervous system response that is designed to keep us safe and to adapt. Stress is a kind of friction that pushes you to move and change.
Too much stress however can take its toll and have serious negative effects.
Understanding Your Stress Responses
We’re creatures of habit. This is definitely true for how we react to stress.
More often than not, these stress responses are formed at a very young age and get cemented over time.
Some people shut down and isolate themselves, others get angry and irritable, some reach for comforts like food or a drink.
Oftentimes we’re so used to these stress responses that we over-identify with them and believe that that’s who we are. But you’re not. You’re much more than that.
One of the first steps towards managing your stress responses is to become aware of them.
You can’t change something until you’re able to name it.
When you become aware of what your personal stress responses are, you bring consciousness to them. Naming them can take away their power a little, so that they’re less automatic, and more “Oh, I’m doing this again.”
When you start to name your stress responses, you’re able to change them.
Moving Through Stress
Stress happens, and it’s not always a bad thing, nor is it entirely avoidable.
There tends to be an overemphasis on eliminating stress, but that’s not realistic. Not only that, but like I talked about at the beginning of the article – stress can serve a function and serve as a powerful motivator.
Instead of thinking about “eliminating stress”, try shifting your focus to “moving through stress.”
Life happens, and so does stress. What’s important is understanding how you respond to it, and how to practice more beneficial habits.
When you put too much emphasis on eliminating stress, you create a sort of fear and avoidance mentality.
Learning how to move through stress instead creates resiliency, strength, and momentum.
Think of it this way:
- Extreme athletes face stress.
- New business owners face stress when they send a cold email.
- You face stress when you ask someone you like out on a date.
Even stressful situations that don’t have a potential positive outcome on the other side can be approached with the intention to move through the stress.
Moving through stress allows you to stay grounded in difficult situations, think critically and make rational decisions, and helps prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.
This might seem easier said than done, but too can learn to move through stress!
Building New Stress Responses
While some people seem to be more naturally adept when it comes to responding to stress, anyone can improve this skill.
Here are some ways you can start today:
- Practice in a Neutral Environment: Creating situations where you expose yourself to a sort of neutral stress gives you the chance to practice how you respond in less predictable situations.
Some ways people do this are through endurance sports, especially ones done in nature, breathwork exercises, and taking cold showers or going in cold water. You can even do this by getting outside of your comfort zone by trying a new activity or speaking to someone who intimidates you.
You’d be amazed at just how much leverage you have over your stress levels when you continually do practices like these.
- Self Reflection: It’s time to get to know your stress responses up close and personal. Naming them without over-identifying with them helps to take away their power, and give it back to you.
Start by answering these journal prompts:
- What are my normal stress responses?
- What are the biggest stressors in my life?
- What are some healthy tools I can use to face these stressors?
- Use Mantras: When you do find yourself in a stressful situation, having simple, yet powerful tools to lean back on can help you stay centered and grounded.
Using Mantras can do just that. Mantras or affirmations are short phrases that you repeat to yourself to help get your mind back on track.
You can try using these or by making up your own:
“I have the tools to handle this.”
“I am calm, I am centered.”
“I am not my stress response. I am me.”
Learning how to manage and move through stress is one of the best gifts you can give yourself.
Stress happens, but it doesn’t have to destroy you. When you practice these tools, life becomes not only more manageable, but more enjoyable.
You got this!