Constant stress? Here’s a technique to help manage it

Stress is a natural and normal physiological response to challenging or unexpected situations.

Some stress is ok for us. It causes our bodies to release stress hormones like adrenaline, which helps us to take immediate action in the face of danger or difficulty. It can also give us energy to work on important projects, and even enhance our performance and problem-solving ability.

But chronic stress, which is constant and persists over an extended period of time, can be harmful for us and diminishes our performance, mood and overall well-being.

Most of us these days experience too much ongoing stress in daily life. So how do we manage it better so that we can stay happy, healthy and productive?

Hit play on my latest podcast, or keep reading below, to learn how to use the ‘stress on, stress off’ technique to bolster your mental strength, perform at your peak and stay happy and healthy in the busy demanding world we are living in.

What is stress?

The body’s stress response, also called the ‘fight or flight’ response, is a helpful way your body has adapted to respond to danger. This is evolution’s way of mobilizing your body in times of stress so that you could run, fight or freeze, to avoid danger and stay alive.

When you experience episodes of stress you need the stress hormones your body releases to keep you alert and able to face challenges.

However it’s not only in times of immediate danger that our fight or flight system turns on. Whenever you get stressed or upset in daily life, your body goes into the fight or flight mode.

We are often very busy and have very full to do lists, as well as worries and personal challenges such as trouble in relationships or financial difficulties. We also might ruminate about personal faults, regrets or grievances. Stress-filled thoughts, rushing and business as facing every day challenges can all result if feeling stressed.

Physical signs of stress you can look out for are:

  • Faster heartbeat and breathing
  • Tense muscles
  • Uneasy or upset stomach
  • Racing thoughts
  • Changes in mood such as irritability and anger
  • Feeling on edge

All of these are signs that your body is in fight or flight mode. These symptoms are normal and natural and should pass soon after the stressful situation is over. 

However, if these kinds of symptoms are ongoing in your daily life, it may be a sign that you are too stressed.

How do I know if I’m too stressed?

Stress can become a problem when it lasts a long time, becomes ongoing, or if you feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with your situation. When this happens, it is very important to take steps to manage your stress to ensure that you can stay happy, healthy and able to remain effective in your life.

The problem is that for most of us these days we experience quite a bit of ongoing stress in daily life. We live in a busy, demanding world with increasing amounts of uncertainty and instability. 

The key to stress management is finding the right balance between healthy helpful stress and stress that is chronic or debilitating.

The point where stress becomes chronic is different for everyone, but you might look out for the following signs:

  • Ongoing changes in mood, such as ongoing anxiety, sadness or irritability
  • Feelings of persistent overwhelm or helplessness
  • Difficulty concentrating. scattered thoughts
  • Feeling ‘wired but tired’: feeling exhausted but simultaneously having difficulty sleeping
  • Fixation on problems: unable to stop worrying or ruminating about an issue
  • Loss of pleasure and meaning in life
  • Physical reactions such as muscle tension, upset stomach, body aches
  • Loss of balance in life. Not making time for things that bring you energy, health and happiness
  • Withdrawal from social circles and loved ones
  • Using substances like alcohol and drugs to cope

Chronic stress can lead to all kinds of health problems as well as mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. So how can we learn to manage it more effectively?

How to manage stress effectively by using the stress on, stress off technique

The fight or flight system was designed to be triggered when there was immediate danger or challenge, and then it would switch off for the rest of the time. But these days, because we tend to have ongoing tension in the mind and body, we need a way to deliberately switch off to fight or flight response.

How can we do that? Dr Herbert Benson, the author of ‘The Relaxation Response” says,

“Regular elicitation of the Relaxation Response can prevent, and compensate for, the damage incurred by frequent nervous reactions that pulse through our hearts and bodies.” 

In other words, we can go from stress on to stress off. We can switch off the fight or flight system and switch on the relaxation response through regular deliberate relaxation.

Here’s three ways to switch on the relaxation response in daily life.

1.Twenty second tension release

When you’re going about daily life, ticking off tasks on your to-do list, replying to emails, or stuck in traffic, see if you can tune in to whether you’re starting to tense up physically. When ever you notice tension, deliberately relax your body at will. Especially the jaw and the shoulders. See if you can pause every now and then and let go of some of the tension in the body again and again throughout the day. Even if you let go just a little bit, that’s still great. 

One way you can incorporate this into your daily life is to ‘pair’ twenty seconds of tension release with another activity you do on a regular basis, such as every time you’re about to hit send on an email, eat a meal, have a cup of tea or every time you get into the car.

2. Practice deep breathing to find greater calm and clarity

In times where you know that you’ve just become stressed (say after a hard conversation or a bit of bad news), one thing you can do is take a few long slow deep breaths with long exhales. This can switch off the stress response and switch on the relaxation response. This will help you find mental clarity and calm again, and help you deal with things more effectively.

3. Schedule relaxing activities

Schedule activities during your week that help you turn off your fight or flight and turn on your relaxation response. In other words, find some time to relax as often as that is available to you. A hot bath, a 5 minute rest under a tree, some meditation, yoga or a slow walk on the beach. All of these kinds of activities help you switch gears, down regulating your nervous system and helping you stay more blanched over the long term.

Your mental strength practice this week

In the week ahead, try the stress on, stress off approach and see what effect it has in your life. 

The more you practice regular, deliberate relaxation like this, the more you will train your body and mind to naturally drop into a more calm, clear-headed and effective state for the majority of the time.

Wishing you well with this, I really hope it’s beneficial. As always feel free to let me know how it goes in the comments section below or on social media.

Elevate your mental strength

If you’re finding these practices beneficial to your life, and you’re ready to take your mental strength to the next level, I invite you to join me in Headstrong. It’s my 8-week intensive mental strength program. Headstrong offers the best of everything I’ve learned in over two decades of mental strength training and teaching. It’s designed to get rapid transformational results and arm you with powerful tools and skills that will last a lifetime. This program will help you not only survive, but thrive – even in tough times.

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