Symptoms of stress are, literally, killing us.
Anxiety, headaches, insomnia and even cardiovascular disease, the problem is getting bigger.
According to a survey published in 2018, from the Mental Health Foundation, 75% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.
What’s more, a 33% of people said they’d experienced suicidal feelings as a result of stress with 16% stating they’d self-harmed because of it.
So, for a different look at this stress epidemic wracking our collective consciousness, I’m going to take a look at exactly what we can do to combat that stress, fast!
Why Am I Stressed Out?
When things are not working out the way we planned, we usually react with resistance. By this I mean we try to resist the reality by trying to change the external influences which have created our stress. We do this because we want to have control over these external influences and try to force change.
It’s a brutal truth about life: we have no control over many of the things that happen to us. Those of us who refuse to accept this will suffer high levels of unnecessary stress.
There are two ways we do this: one, thinking we have control and two, going over and over potential crises.
By thinking we can gain enough control over others, and the situations we find ourselves in, then we somehow prevent bad things from happening, we’re on a hiding to nothing.
If we put our time and energy into believing that thinking hard enough about all the potential worst case scenarios will somehow keep us safe, we’re on a losing streak. Going over and over the same old problems eventually backfires because it creates even more stress.
Neither of these strategies works because we are powerless over other people and we can’t prevent a catastrophe. So, worry warts and control freaks put their time and energy into the wrong places. And ultimately, those strategies backfire and create even more stress.
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Fight or Flight
Biologically speaking, we’ve changed very little from way back when we had to hunt for our food and being eaten by wolves was a legitimate concern. A stress induced ‘flight or flight’ response was appropriate and we would have had seconds to decide whether we were going to run for it or stand and fight.
Today, we have a similar reaction to scenarios that are not actually life threatening at all. Noisy neighbours, a bad boss or getting cut off in traffic can all be enough to elicit that same fight or fight response.
The key to our high stress levels is that whereas the traditional 'fight or flight' scenarios were over quickly, i.e. the face off with the wolf would have been over in a minute, today they drag on and on. This leaves us with harmful effects of high levels of adrenalin and cortisol constantly hitting our blood supply.
Our body is not able to distinguish the origin or severity of our stressors, so whatever the cause, all stress is drained into one collective ‘sinkhole’ of worry. If this hole gets too full before you are able to combat your stress, health problems start up.
6 Ways To Beat Stress Fast
There are successful tried and tested tactics that we can do to combat stress. Here’s my top six.
1. Create a stress management plan
Whether we’re working in the boardroom or staying at home with young children, we can all create a stress management plan. When life is going well or we’re encountering tough times, stress management strategies are key to performing at our peak.
It’s important to start with the fundamentals: exercising, eating healthy, participating in social and leisure activities and getting plenty of sleep are just a few key things we need to do to take care of ourselves.
We need to schedule time to engage in healthy stress relievers. Whether we want to spend time with friends or enjoy yoga it’s important to make time for those activities REGARDLESS of how busy we are.
Also, we must stay mindful of unhealthy coping skills. Eating too much junk food, drinking too much alcohol, binge watching TV all offer temporary relief but they’ll create more problems for us over the long-term.
2. Cultivate healthy affirmations
Apparently, we have about 70,000 thoughts per day. Many of our thoughts incite feelings of self-doubt, fear, and discouragement.
Keeping a few positive healthy affirmations on hand can help combat negative thinking. So whether we remind ourselves, “I am stronger than I think” or “I can handle this”, our affirmations can help drown out the negativity.
With practice, we can train our brain to think differently. And we’ll begin to accept that while we can’t control every situation, we can control how we think, feel, and behave.
3. Determine what we can control
The reality is there are many things in life we have zero control over. We can’t force that boyfriend to change, we can’t prevent a hurricane from happening, and we can’t control how other people feel.
Sometimes, all we can control is our effort and our attitude. When we put our energy into the things we can control, we'll be much more effective and much less stressed.
4. Identify what frightens us
Stressed people predict catastrophic outcomes and their ability to cope with an undesirable outcome?
Usually, the worst case scenario isn't as horrible as we might envisage. But quite often, we are so busy thinking, "This is going to be a disaster," that we don't take the time to ask ourselves, "What would I do if the worst case scenario came true?"
Perhaps we’d struggle for a while, but there’s a good chance we’re mentally strong enough to bounce back. Acknowledging that we can handle the worst case scenario can help us put our energy into more productive places.
5. Concentrate on our influence
We can't force things to go our way but we can have a strong influence.
So while we can’t make our children be good students, we can give them the tools they needs to do their best. And while we can’t force people to have a good time in our company, we can create the best atmosphere possible.
To have the most influence, however, we need to be responsible for our actions and it’s important to check in with ourselves to make sure we’re being the best we can be.
6. Differentiate between mind racing and problem-solving
Playing yesterday’s conversations over and over in our head and allowing the mind to race away on catastrophic outcomes is not helpful. But solving a problem is.
So we ask ourselves: are we’re mind racing or solving problems? If we are problem solving then consistently thinking about ways to prevent problems, it increases our chances of success.
If we’re mind racing, however, we need to flick the channel in our brain. Acknowledging our thoughts aren't helpful and distracting ourselves for a few minutes can get our brain focused on something more energising.
Why Am I Stressed Out And Is Meditation The Answer?
I had a boyfriend who was emotionally absent. I tried FOREVER to get him to open up. I stressed out so much I thought I was going insane. It was only when I opened up to my meditation teacher, who was trying to help me lower my stress levels, could I see how I was trying to control the uncontrollable.
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The teacher said, “But what if you reacted differently?” and explained that sometimes, all you can control is your effort and attitude.
“When you put your energy into the things you can control, you'll be much more effective. And to have the most influence, you need to be in control of your behaviour because that’s something you DO HAVE control over. But if you do have any concerns about someone else's choices, share your opinion, but only share it once and don't try to fix people who don't want to be fixed.”
Wise words indeed.
Following his teaching I was encouraged to go inward, find peace and transcendence. He explained how to bring my focus onto nurturing myself—instead of pouring all my attention and energy into changing my boyfriend so that he would meet my expectations.
Our inner landscape is rich and we can tap into the gifts of built-in technology for embracing our own natural abilities and coping skills. If we do this, our innate wisdom provides the solutions and tools necessary to create the life we want and deserve.
On a pragmatic level, meditation can empower us with tools for tapping into the magic of present-moment awareness which is – perhaps – the most powerful way to nourish ourselves.
I practiced Transcendental Meditation and it's been a game changer.
To have the discipline, expert teaching and commitment of others in helping me to assimilate the wisdom, it's the magic I’ve needed to beat stress.
The founder of the Transcendental Meditation Movement, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi explained,
“During meditation, as the mental activity becomes more refined, breathing becomes more refined—and with this, metabolic rate becomes more refined, becomes less and less. The whole system receives deep rest. This deep rest automatically eliminates stresses and strains. So when the mind is opening to that unbounded pure awareness, the field of pure intelligence, simultaneously the body is losing stresses and strains, and thereby the clouds that were hindering the use of inner full creative intelligence in action, they begin to wither away.”
I can’t recommend it highly enough as the perfect tool to manage life stress. And just to be clear, I am not in any way affiliated with the organisation nor do I receive anything for telling you about it. I am simply a practicing meditator.
Here’s a link if you want to find out more: Transcendental Meditation
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