Calm – how to process a stressful day
Stress, tension and tough times are an inevitable part of being human, especially at the moment. The more we challenge ourselves and lead lives that are full and productive – the more overwhelm and stress we will inevitably feel.
There’s also the fact that we live in the unnatural world of 9-5 workdays, weeks and weekends, months, years – trying to squeeze in family, friends, self-care and socializing. There are also the circumstances that happen completely out of our control that create uncertainty and angst. Even more so if we haven’t got the tools to navigate the shifts into a ‘new normal’ over and over again.
Stress. What is it? Fundamentally it’s not the ‘thing’ that happens to us but the body's reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. It’s a series of adaptations that the body must make as we move through our days/ lives, that keeps us in the healthy state of homeostasis.
Stress isn’t necessarily a negative. Humans are resilient creatures, incredibly capable of adapting to shifting circumstances and seeing the positive. We’re natural problem solvers – otherwise we wouldn’t have evolved as we have. Stress only becomes problematic if it’s long-term and prolonged. When it’s the soundtrack to our lives, that’s when it can start to wreak havoc our health and happiness.
For many of us, it’s not the physical aspect of stress that harms us but the thoughts and mental noise that become unhealthy, unhelpful and down right debilitating.
Here are some of my suggestions on how to manage stress and make it an ally, not an enemy.
The most important self-care a human can do is learn to recognise the signs of stress, fatigue and overwhelm early and adjust accordingly. Really stop and think about how you respond to life when you’re stressed. Do you become irritable and short-tempered? Do you start eating poorly or drinking too much caffeine or alcohol? Learning how to listen to our bodies and minds, and give them what they need in a timely manner is fundamental in living a long and healthy life. Use the cues of your body to adjust your day and give yourself the break you need.
Roll with it
We must remember that our bodies are pretty much the same as they were 200 million years ago. When our stress response is activated, survival mode is triggered and it’s all about action. This means our real emotions (like fear, sadness, grief, anger) will often be repressed. It’s a mechanism that saved our lives in our early evolution, but is making us sick now, as many of us are in a state of chronic survival mode. Letting our emotions have space and attention, and learning healthy outlets for those emotions creates emotional resilience and authenticity. Carve some space in your day to feel what you’re feeling without distraction. It’s also important to communicate how you’re feeling and know how you can safely let off some steam.
Figure out what soothes you
Every human is different and what’s good for the goose isn’t necessarily good for the gander. How do you relax? And by relax, I mean fully restore the nervous system and press the reset button. Binge watching Netflix, drinking wine and hours-long Instagram spirals don’t count. Even intense exercise isn’t restorative. Healthy ways to reset are things like getting outside into nature, swimming in the ocean, getting a massage, reading a book, drawing, cooking, yin yoga, tai-chi, somatic and energetic body work, relaxing with friends and loved ones… In fact, anything that’s playful or anchors you into the present moment.
Put down your phone
Please. Give yourself, especially your mind, a break. I truly believe that the chronic smartphone addiction we’re experiencing is a huge contributing factor to our epidemic of angst, stress and overwhelm. The constant checking, scrolling, comparing, judging and the fact that we bring our ‘work’ into every aspect of our lives is immensely problematic. It takes us out of the present and into an imaginary world of escapism, coping and a perpetual sense that there’s always something to do. Learn how to sit with your feelings (see point 2) and enjoy the wanderings of your mind – it’s designed to daydream. You can use your phone mindfully, and you can use your phone mindlessly. Create boundaries with your phone use. If you have children, role modelling healthy phone use is revolutionary.
I find lists exceptionally helpful at the end of the day when I feel like I haven’t achieved all I believe I need to achieve (be careful of beliefs, they can be very misleading) or I’m fretting about what has to happen tomorrow. Most of the time I’ll write, and realise the list ain’t as long as I thought it would be and quite manageable. Most stress is created at the level of the mind. Once we short circuit these spirals, we can often relax a little more.
Make sleep a priority
When we sleep, the body detoxifies, heals, and completely resets. Cut back on the alcohol and caffeine as they mess your sleep up immeasurably, and get those zzzz’s.
My daily meditation practices provide the added benefits of de-stressing my nervous system twice a day. We also get the equivalent of 3-hours deep rest from each 20-minute sitting. It’s the same as checking in on myself twice a day and just asking the question “how are you doing today?”