There’s no doubt about it – stress is very much on the increase in today’s world. Indeed, according to the American Psychological Association, most Americans are suffering from moderate to high stress, with 44% reporting that their stress levels have increased over the past five years. Statistics show that the top five causes of stress in the US are work pressures, money, health, relationships and poor nutrition. Stress, if left unchecked, can lead to serious health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.
So what can we do about all this stress? Many people turn to antidepressants as a last resort, while others try meditation, yoga or exercise as a means of bringing a bit of calm into their lives. But how about trying to make your stress work for you? Believe it or not, stress, in certain amounts, can actually be used as a force for good.
You may well have heard of the fight or flight response whereby, when faced with a threat, the body releases adrenaline in a bid to prepare us to cope with the perceived danger. In small amounts, this can be quite a useful thing, as it gears us up, sharpens our senses and makes us more alert. But when this occurs on a regular basis, it can lead our adrenal glands to become depleted and the body to become exhausted. The key therefore is to learn how to manage our stress and make it work for us. Let’s take a look at some ways that we can do this.
1. Realise that stress can be a great motivator.
Stress is what makes people get things done. If you didn’t have anything pushing you, like a deadline or a boss breathing down your neck, you’d probably procrastinate more and never get anything done. This is why it’s good to try and change your view of stress and see how it can be a positive thing. For example, think of Olympic athletes like Mo Farrah. The stress of having a bunch of other runners on his tail must be a great motivator to help him win his races. Stress isn’t always necessarily a bad thing.
2. Treat it as a learning experience.
Next time you are experiencing a lot of stress, try to work out what you can learn from the situation and how you can do things differently next time. Rather than seeing it as something that’s defeating you or wearing you down, view your stress as something that’s teaching you new skills and ways of coping. Perhaps you need to give yourself more time to prepare, do more research or ask for more help. Share your problems; see if a task can be delegated. It takes strength to admit that you need help. Make a note of how you could have approached the situation differently and take those thoughts on board next time a similar situation arises.
3. Use it as a means of organising yourself.
When stress arises, it often means that we feel overwhelmed or unable to cope. Instead of internalising your stress, use it as a way of analysing the situation you find yourself in and working out how it can be dealt with. Make a list of all the problems or things you need to do and then approach each one separately, working out how it can be dealt with. Make a flow chart if that helps. Breaking down a problem into smaller chunks can make it seem a lot less overwhelming.
4. Take the opportunity to reward yourself.
Stressful situations can be tough and draining, but most of the time they don’t last forever. Make a point of rewarding yourself when you have got through your current stress as a way of being kind to yourself. Think of something you can do to treat yourself when the stress is over, like having a new haircut or going out to your favourite restaurant. Focusing on the reward will help to get you through it. Furthermore, be sure to congratulate yourself for getting through a tough time. And when you find yourself in another stressful situation, bring this memory to mind and remind yourself that you were strong enough to get through it before – and you will do it again.
5. And if all else fails…
Lastly, if you are really struggling with stress and feel it rising to boiling point, try this mindfulness technique based on the idea of traffic lights. As you feel your stress deepening, visualise a red stop sign and say stop in your mind. Allow yourself to take a few deep breaths and give yourself a moment to focus and consider your options. This is your amber light moment. When you feel calmer and more able to move on, visualise the lights changing to green and carry on in a calmer state.