First, let’s nail down what stress is. We feel stressed when we are unable to cope with difficult events or circumstances. However, this is totally natural. Some events and circumstances are simply beyond coping with. These, in turn, have an impact on our bodies.
When we perceive threats, major challenges or pressures, our bodies often undergo biological stress responses. The brain releases hormones and chemicals, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which are sent barrelling through the body. These hormones are nature’s way of making us suddenly more aware and alert so that we can deal with the danger we have identified.
Let’s think about it like this: stress is a natural, unavoidable human experience, and we all go through it. Not everyone feels stressed by the same things, (which is why some people become wedding planners) so we need to identify what our personal stresses are and where they come from, in order to deal with them appropriately.
However, they can often make us feel the physical symptoms of anxiety — like sweating, stuttering and feeling nauseous or shaky. The problem is, having the primitive “fight-or-flight” instinct race through the body is often not the appropriate response. It probably isn’t going to be of much help when you’re dealing with a difficult client, or you’re stuck in traffic.
Stress responses have helped our species to survive this long — thrive even. Stress can be motivating and stimulating, which. However, it is very important not to let stress overwhelm us. Stress should pass; if not we risk it disrupting our work, social, romantic and family lives.
Why is it important to manage stress?
It’s important to manage stress and stress triggers because remaining in a state of stress is actively dangerous. Stress responses prepare us for a sudden attack, which they do by slowing down excess energy-consuming bodily functions like digestive and immune systems. We need these in good working order not only to stay alive but — you guessed — it to fight stress.
If our bodies aren’t in full working order, we might experience short-term health issues like stomach upset, headaches and fatigue. These can make us irritable and cause difficulties with eating, sleeping, concentrating and motivation. If these symptoms are left unchecked, then they will further aggravate our stress responses, leading to more serious health concerns. This could result in issues with mental health, changes in sex drive, unhealthy relationships with food and more.
Even for those of us who come alive when tackling multiple projects, the effects of being constantly flooded with hormones are not healthy. They can lead to premature ageing and ill-health. Although stress is unavoidable, it is manageable.
What is a stress trigger and how can I identify them?
Feelings of stress are usually triggered by events in our lives, or external events, especially ones which we have no control over. The cause of our stress could be one big thing, such as a wedding day or labour. Similarly, stress can be caused by lots of “little” things, across multiple areas of life. Both of these can feel very overwhelming.
There are many potential stress triggers that are built into our 21st Century style of living. Some general triggers of stress might include:
- Internal or external pressure
- Big lifestyle changes
- General or specific worries
- Feeling a lack of control
- Overwhelming responsibility
- Not having enough responsibility
- A lack of purpose
- Uncertain times
- A stress-inducing or distracting environment
- Rational or irrational fears
- Rigid beliefs
- Financial worries
- Health concerns (our own or for others)
- Our relationships
Phew. Frankly, it can seem like stress comes from everywhere and everything. Thankfully, we can learn to recognise what is triggering our stress response, and deal with it efficiently.
How to relieve stress triggers
First and foremost, we need to know our own limits. Yours will be different from everyone else’s. Certain people thrive in stressful situations, for some everything is water off a duck’s back, but for many of us, a lot of stress will quickly overwhelm us and can be incredibly detrimental to our health.
Broadly speaking, we can boost our brain’s ability to cope with stress. For stress trigger relief, it is most important that whichever methods you choose have the direct effect of:
- Removing the source of stress
- Changing your attitude towards stress
- Lessening the physical effects of stress on the body
- Changing your coping mechanisms.
Some methods for this include:
- Leading a healthy lifestyle
Regular exercise will lift our mood and can act as a healthy distraction to whatever is causing us stress. Eating nutritious and healthy foods help us to cope with day-to-day pressures much better than unhealthy foods, which will only worsen symptoms. Avoid stimulants as much as possible — so no caffeine, alcohol or drugs.
Although a glass of wine or a fourth espresso might feel very tempting, they worsen the physical symptoms of stress and won’t actually make us any better equipped to deal with the situation at hand. Regular deep sleep is also very important because tiredness can make us think irrationally, and a clear head is crucial for tackling stress.
2. Connecting with others
It is healthy to share our stress with others! Remember the old proverb about a problem shared? Just spending time with people who mean a lot to us can massively reduce stress — studies have shown that the strength of our social group can predict our stress and happiness levels. Unfortunately, since lockdown, this has obviously become more difficult.
However, we must try to maintain speaking with people who improve our mood and benefit our lives. Regularly walking in the park with a friend, or getting coffee together, can do wonders to relieve stress. Alternatively, even a smile and a short conversation with a friendly neighbour or cashier can help soothe the nervous system. This is because we receive loads of subconscious signals about whether we have anything to be anxious about from our fellow humans.
Talking about stress can help us feel better in a myriad of ways; talking with a friend or family member or a professional can give us a fresh perspective. Even the act of speaking the problem aloud seems to help detangle most issues.
Additionally, if someone is actively stressing you out, communicating this is the best way to solve the problem. Either tell them you need a moment of quiet or space or politely explaining how they are aggravating you are good ways of asserting boundaries which low self-esteem may have somewhat corroded. This person could be simply unaware (or inconsiderate) and may not have realised they are putting an unfair amount of pressure on you.
4. Learning to relax
Yes, relaxing is a skill! Practice relaxation techniques; they can reduce overall stress and can directly support us in the face of stresses. At the very least they may help us take a moment to process, in the moment immediately after stressful events take place, which will help with perspective.
Since stress causes a surge of adrenaline, it’s symptoms can cause an increased heart rate and shortness of breath. Simply focus on keeping the breath deep and even, until the heart rate returns to normal. By doing this, not only can we distract ourselves in the immediate aftermath of stressful events, but by reducing the physical symptoms, we literally feel steadier.
6. Prepping for stressful events
Staying organised for work or home, although slightly more time-consuming, will help us stay prepared for parts of life that are unavoidably stressful. If we know exactly where everything is, we can go about our daily lives much more quickly and efficiently. More to the point, it will help us less likely to find simply thinking about our work deadlines or the school run stressful and guilt-inducing.
7. Tackling things head-on
As someone whose favourite method of procrastination is to wait until I’m completely ready, believe me when I say that perfectionism is a double-edged sword. Not being “completely ready” is an excuse, and it’s irrelevant. I get to decide what the perfect amount of “ready” is, and it often has little to do with the actual task. For instance, I could decide I won’t be completely ready until my entire workspace is organised and sparkling clean, when the fact is it really doesn’t matter.
Productive procrastination is an unhelpful response. The best place to start is just to take a good look at the facts of the situation and begin to think about our options.
To sum up…
By being aware and mindful of our stress triggers, we can find ways of coping with them. By easing our overall stress levels, we can relax, and appreciate the joy which motivates us to keep going when our body is telling us to fight or flee. In short, we can relax, and enjoy the wedding or holiday that will make all the planning worth it, or the pride we will feel after completing a difficult project, or the sheer satisfaction of facing a challenge head-on.
Written by Lucia Victor
WellBe is spearheading the way to a brighter future for corporate wellness. Our innovative portal is scientifically designed and tailored to each individual employee to improve their wellbeing. We specialise in a range of services from coaching and therapists, to meditation and reading materials. Our aim is to reduce workplace stress that costs UK businesses £42 billion per year. Get in touch with us by visiting our site wellbe.global for more information.