Overloaded, overwhelmed, overboard…stressed out?
Notice how many expressions we use to indicate feeling stress, like ‘over’ or ‘too much’ ? This state can be defined as too much pressure, of any variety, physically, mentally or emotionally.
And the holiday season is often a perfect combination of circumstances that together bring that response on. Especially if you’re dealing with a restricted diet, just trying to stick to healthy amounts and choices can be stressful.
What to do about it?
How to mindfully respond to stress
1. Be aware of it
Begin at the beginning, with awareness. This isn’t the first or last time you’ll hear this, but you can’t change anything that you’re unaware of! Sounds obvious yet occurs surprisingly infrequently in the mind. So develop intimacy with your stress, really get to know every aspect of it.
When I’m stressed, the initial signs I notice are in the mind. Usually, it shows up as a sense of urgency, feeling pressured, or annoyance at who or what I perceive to be impeding my ‘progress’, or bothering me (in my mind) with ‘less’ important things. After an embarrassing length of time lost in those unpleasant states, I begin to catch the impatience, frustration, irritation. Once felt, noticed and named, it’s far easier to let go of.
After all, it doesn’t feel good!
My absolute belief at the time, that this is objectively how things are, overshadows the truth that it’s my stressed overloaded mind conjuring up this distorted angle.
Try this now
To increase your awareness and intimacy with stress, stop reading for a second, close your eyes or soften your gaze staring off into space.
Recall a situation that stressed you. It might have been agreeing to coach your daughter’s soccer team even as you take on an additional project at work, or being determined to bake extra goodies for your neighborhood holiday party. Notice what’s happening in your mind and body when recalling the situation.
Pay deep attention to all sensations during this exercise. Perhaps you notice your mind jumping around, becoming agitated, leaping from thought to thought. Maybe you tune in to your body, noticing it tighten, shoulders hunched up, your fists clenched and fingernails digging uncomfortably into your palms.
Whatever you notice is fine, knowing more about your stress response is helpful. There’s nothing broken here that needs fixing!
Accepting the moment as it is reduces tension, whereas resistance increases it, setting in motion a series of internal physiological reactions, which end up by triggering stress-inducing cortisol. The body is now in flight or fight mode.
And all over maybe baking an extra plate of (hopefully low carbohydrate) cookies?
So accept how things are, know they’ll change as everything does, and don’t fret. Tolerate the situation by steadily moving on through it until you notice a shift. Particularly monitor your thoughts, that’s the engine that drives everything. The more attention you pay, the sooner you’ll become aware of it changing.
3. Pause and breathe
Rushing through doesn’t necessarily get you there sooner, or move you away from the unpleasant quicker.
Pausing, meditating even briefly, taking deep breaths are all ways of inserting a “page break”. Try it…then pick up on the fact that your productivity actually increases afterwards. That pause or deep breath steadies the mind, helps with focus and enables you to be more deliberate, not spinning your wheels. The result…you’re more effective with less energy expenditure and lower cortisol production.
Simply put, you’ve staved off a stress response.
4. Be realistic
Only take on that which you’re able to. Even if you have the physical time, do you have the
Most at risk are those of you who feel too uncomfortable to say “no”.
Risky because it’s a surefire precursor to resentment, another stress-inducer.
So what to do?
Instead, if you’re unsure, practice saying “Let me get back to you on that”. Give yourself some time to evaluate it, check what feelings emerge when you contemplate taking it on. They’ll be your best guide to ‘Yes” or “No”.
How to practically respond to stress
Addressing stress physiologically can be swifter than taming your mind. Here are some suggestions that can help no matter what your mind is doing.
1. Get plenty of sleep
If you’re typical, enough sleep is probably more than you’re getting. The recommendation for adults is 7.5 to 8 hours nightly. Since developing Type 2, I function best with 8.5 to 9 hours. I commonly hear from clients they sleep just 5-6.5 hours, but that’s insufficient for the body to rejuvenate itself physically and the brain to process everything.
One result of inadequate sleep can be an increase in stress responses. Inadequate sleep can lead to poor daytime functioning. Feeling fuzzy minded or bleary eyed slows response times and increases stress just going through your daily activities.
2. Move your body
In what way is less important than just being physically active. Any activity that is cardiovascular, running, gym machines, swimming, tennis, brisk walking, will reduce physiological stress if undertaken for a minimum of 30 minutes.
3. Stroke a pet
If you share your life with a furry one, groom or pet them if feeling stressed. Walking your dog is the best as you’re moving your body too. Stroking fur lowers blood pressure, calms the central nervous system, and lowers production of cortisol. And if you can sync your breathing to theirs during the petting, even better.
4. Laugh with a friend
Just talking or laughing with someone shifts your mood. Cortisol hates laughter, they’re mutually exclusive. If one is present in your body, the other isn’t. Choose to laugh!
5. Watch something that’ll make you roar
No one around to share a laugh with? Then watch a show or movie you know will make you laugh. Go for the full-body, deep belly laugh, one that’ll shake up the internal organs!
Let me know what works for you, or what you’ve tried that doesn’t…leave your comments here…