Stress is not just a thought or a feeling. It can actually make you unhealthy. It might cause your body to release stress hormones (like adrenaline and cortisol), it can alter your appetite, it may even increase your heart rate. That’s why doctors tell us to avoid it. But life is stressful, so how, exactly, are we supposed to accomplish that?
Believe it or not, there are some very quick and easy ways to circumvent stress.
First, acknowledge that the event and your response to it are two separate things. We tend to conflate them, believing that, as long as the situation is true, the stress must be, as well. In reality, the giant stack of work someone just added to your in-box is one thing, and the way you’re feeling about it is something else. Simply acknowledging the distinction can help you on your way to a calmer response.
Second, give that feeling a name. Are you experiencing betrayal? Hurt? Anger? In his book The Upward Spiral, Alex Korb, Ph.D., alludes to an fMRI study in which participants observed pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. The amygdala of each participant took on the emotions of the subject in the picture. But when the participants named the emotion, it reduced the amygdala activity. Simply becoming consciously aware of what one is feeling is enough to reduce its impact on the person experiencing it.
Finally, remind yourself that you have options. Place the palm of your hand on the crown of your head, and take three long, slow, deep breaths. Then, ask yourself, “Is the situation really as bad as it felt initially?” Perhaps if you begin working on it, it’ll turn out to be easier than you thought it would be. Remind yourself of other times when you’ve survived situations like this one. Make a mental (or tangible) list of your good points.
Whatever your next steps are, following them without stress will always be a healthier choice, both physically and emotionally, because once the stress response is triggered, your body has to deal with it. It has to re-regulate your heart rate and breathing, to restore you to the set point, to re-absorb the unnecessary stress hormones, and all of that takes time. When your body is working on taking care of something else, it’s distracted by that task. So, when you’re stressed, you’re more likely to become injured or ill. You continue living your life, but your body is preoccupied by this clean-up task. It’s kind of like sending your car off without a driver in it.
So, give yourself this gift: begin practicing these stress relief techniques starting today.