From deadlines to relationships and everything in between, stress is all around you.
Even so, is stress actually affecting your health? Avoiding stress is an inherently safe thing to do, but too little stress can keep you from reaching your potential; of course, too much stress can lead to burn out or other health problems. So how can you make sure you have the right amount of stress?
Your response to stress has a huge impact on your health and performance. Positive responses include increased motivation, more energy, and better focus. When you react positively to a stressor you learn, grow, get stronger and explore the edges of your comfort zone; leading to increased performance and health. On the other hand negative reactions lead to distraction, increased worry or demoralization resulting in avoidance of further challenges. Negative reactions typically leave us feeling even more stress and as a result we take less time for rest and recovery. Less rest or improper recovery increases cortisol and adrenaline levels in the body that can disrupt blood sugar levels, metabolism, and sleep; resulting in weight loss and fat gain.
Managing stress levels can be a delicate balancing act, and finding your optimum level or sweet spot is the key to increasing your performance or health. You need some stress in your life to live and perform optimally, but too much or too little stress can be detrimental to your health and performance.
TRY THIS QUICK EXERCISE TO SEE IF YOUR STRESS LEVELS ARE HITTING YOUR SWEET SPOT
- If you are bored, directionless, unfocused or lethargic then your stress level may be too low. While this may be good for you on a short term basis like a vacation, this state can ultimately lead to a decrease in your overall health and performance.
- If you are energized, engaged, learning or growing then you are in your stress sweet spot. Perfect! Highly successful people find ways to keep themselves in this zone as much as possible.
- If you are anxious, obsessive, depressed, or panicked, then your stress level is likely too high!* You have lost the ability to cope with stress in a positive and productive way and need to find a way to lessen your stress, or find and use a different coping mechanism. Continually being in a state of high stress will ultimately affect your health and performance negatively.
IDENTIFYING WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL WILL HELP YOU COPE WITH STRESS
Your genetics, history, and past experiences with stress are things that you don’t have much control over. While most of the ability to stay calm under duress is a result of past experiences; believe it or not, some people are just better at dealing with stress than others.
Work and home environments, as well as your social support network can affect how you cope with stress. Having a strong and positive environment and support network is something that you have some control over. You can’t control everyone in your life, but you can manage how they affect you. Spending time with loved ones and staying positive is a stress reducing technique that we all inherently seek out. Getting outdoors and spending time in nature, can also help ease work and life stresses. Of course staying on top of things like work deadlines will help to prevent stress from piling up in the first place.
Your own attitude toward stress as well as your capability to cope with is what you have the greatest amount of control over. Stress management is an ability that you can learn to do better. Try to view stressors as challenges to rise up to, rather than to avoid. Being optimistic, proactive, and confident in your ability will help you to better cope with stress. While being pessimistic, reactionary, or lacking confidence, lead to lowered health and performance and even more stress.
YOGA OR MEDITATION HAS BEEN SHOWN TO EASE STRESS… BUT WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO?
Laugh more. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins; these are your natural feel-good hormones. Get outside and enjoy some sunshine. Being in nature improves your mood, giving you the motivation and energy to take on your next challenge. Hug a loved one or a pet. Holding a loved one can lower your blood pressure and heart rate, no wonder a hug feels so good! Practice deep breathing, sip some tea, or read a book. Taking the time to slow down helps to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system and reduces the feelings of stress.
Laughing and getting outside are great ways to de-stress but unfortunately they aren’t going to do your work for you. To reach your potential, without burning out in the process, consider setting some goals. Make sure your goal is specific enough to give you a direction or structure. Most people tend to get stressed out about the outcome, so instead focus on the process and steps that you need to do to finish your goal. The best goals can be broken into smaller actions that can be planned out as monthly, weekly, or even daily habits.
Just like anything else we do for our health, you may fail at times to keep yourself in the stress sweet spot. Don’t be afraid to seek out the help of others, when this happens. “Many hands make light work” If you are overloaded with work and stressed out because of it, try recruiting others to help you. The same can be said if you are in a rut and are finding it hard to get motivated. Spending time with a coach or mentor can help you learn new skills to cut stress or help achieve your goals more effectively.
Stress itself is often not the problem … Rather; it’s your response to it!
Paul Bradshaw l Kinesiologist