How to Identify and Overcome the Impact of Stress
Knowing when to take action is equally as important as knowing what action to take! The former, though, is often times more clear and obvious to us than the latter. So, when you come to the crossroads of Stress and Relaxation, there’s a choice to be made between the two. Stress is natural. Whether personal or due to larger situations outside of our control impacting many, our bodies will always be experiencing stress at varying levels. Stress by itself is not inherently bad - it’s primal and dates all the way back to our ancestors and our flight or fight response. Unchecked stress, however, can escalate and have a detrimental impact on our bodies when not addressed appropriately.
For our purposes, let’s loosely define stress as “our heightened reaction to the real or perceived events that occur in our lives”. This heightened reaction is the key to proactively responding to stress. We have the power to react in a way that’s beneficial to our bodies. An important equation when it comes to stress management is:
Event + Response = Outcome
- The Event: We are not now, nor will we ever, be completely in control of the events that occur in our lives. Even if you can create the event, you are not entirely in control of the impact or outcome on yourself and others. Events of all types happen to us all of the time; good ones like weddings and births, bad ones like natural disasters and pandemics, exciting ones like concerts and graduations, and countless more.
- Our Response: First important to note is that the response is ours. This is what we can control to help influence the outcome. The response is what we believe, feel, think, and do as a counter to the event. When faced with events, we either react or we respond. The difference is important. A response is a thoughtful and deliberate action; while a reaction is more of a “knee-jerk reaction” without any thought behind it. Reactions are more akin to our ancestral fight or flight tendencies. Stress is best managed through thoughtful and intentful responses
- The Outcome: The direct result of individual or collective responses (or reactions).
So how do we proactively, effectively, and positively respond to stress? It starts with our thoughts and mindset. Stress can actually alter your perception and your response or reaction to an event. That’s right, stress can have a direct impact on our response in the equation. For example, if your thoughts, feelings, or behaviors are accompanied by fear, then you may find yourself panic stricken. Panic has the ability to empower us or paralyze us into having irrational thoughts and making similarly aligned irrational decisions. When caught in a panic, don’t feed into it or lean into it; instead redirect this negative energy, and turn it positive. One way to positively respond to panic is to do deep breathing exercises. The moment you feel overwhelmed by stress, follow these steps:
- Purposefully lower your shoulders.
- Take a deep 3-5 count breath in through your nose.
- Exhale out through your mouth for an equal 3-5 count.
Go ahead, seriously stop reading and give it a try right now. ...In and out.
Feeling calmer? Us too. This type of breathing exercise has actually been medically and scientifically proven to immediately reduce stress by decreasing stress signals and allowing for full frontal-lobe brain function. This means that we are able to be clear and decisive with our actions. Only then can your brain engage in the critical thinking that may be needed to problem solve and make crucial decisions.
Consider the responses (or reactions) of these two individuals when faced with a stressful event:
- Person 1: A highly successful businesswoman who is regarded by all who know her as a perfect mother and perfect wife. But, when faced with a stressful event at home, she does not take a few moments for a breathing exercise and instead paces wildy up and down the hallway flailing her arms.
What has she accomplished? Well, other than wearing out the carpet, not much. Her outcome (directly impacted by her reaction) will not be as positive as she desires. The situation controlled her. Stress has won.
- Person 2: An average worker with a simple job and a small family. When faced with a stressful event at home, does a deep breathing exercise before responding.
What does this response do? This allows her to become laser-focused on solutions, enabling her to self-direct and take charge of the situation. Before responding, she was able to successfully communicate to her brain that the threat has passed and all will be well.
Did you know that in addition to the emotional and mental responses elicited by stress, it also induces a physiological response in our bodies? When our bodies become stressed, we produce a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol, like stress, is not inherently bad and can actually do much good for the body; but like any other hormone, left unchecked it can potentially lead to devastating complications and health concerns such as: high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and in cases of chronically unbalanced levels, eventually death. But don’t panic! This is not entirely out of our control, and there’s a silver lining: we can control its impact to our lives by controlling our response to it.
According to the Mayo Clinic, stress symptoms may be affecting your health in ways you may not even realize. You may think illness is to blame for that irritating headache, your frequent insomnia, or your decreased productivity at work. But stress may actually be the true cause. Stress symptoms can affect your body, your thoughts, your feelings, and your behavior. Being able to recognize common stress symptoms can help you manage them. Read more about the Mayo Clinic’s study at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987
In addition to scientifically-proven breathing exercises, here are some other ways that you can actively reduce and eliminate the negative effects of physical, mental, and emotional stress:
- Limit the amount of time you spend watching news that induces feelings of fear, anxiety, or uncertainty. Stick to simple headline updates where possible, and don’t get hooked into an endless loop of news. Limiting yourself to just an hour a day may keep your headache away!
- Get out and exercise. It doesn’t have to be anything worthy of an olympic seat; walking around the block is just fine! Anything that helps you clear your head and take deeper breaths. Bonus: smiling and waving at neighbors and others can help to induce good feelings (and silence negative, draining emotions).
- Listen to your body. Our neck and shoulders are especially susceptible to stress and tension. If you notice tension or tightness in these areas, take a step back and figure out what might be causing it. This is also a great place for relaxed shoulders and deep breathing!
- Affirmations are a great way to retrain your brain. Tell yourself, “I can’t control this, but I can relax and refocus my energy!”
- Consider adding a cortisol controlling supplement to your vitamin regimen. MRC’s Corti-trim is a best seller and client favorite. Taken daily, it helps to control and balance cortisol (the stress hormone) levels. For those who are also losing weight, this supplement helps to shave inches off the belly (where our bodies tend to store excess fat produced from uncontrolled stress). Interested in learning more about this supplement and availability? Click here, and a Weight Loss Specialist will reach out to you shortly with more information.
- Remember that how you respond is a choice. More importantly, it’s your choice and no one can take that from you. So, whenever you find yourself at that crossroads of stress and relaxation, make the right turn. Life is meant to be enjoyed!
Now, take another deep, cleansing breath, and go out and face your day with confidence, control, and less stress!
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