Her voice was trembling. And while she was eating half of her words, she sounded like a broken record.
As her friend, I noticed this change in her behavior. She wouldn’t normally look like a lost kitten on a cold night. It was summers after all, but, even her voice was trembling. So, I said,
‘You seem stressed’.
And she responded as if I had performed the ALS Bucket Challenge on her. I didn’t’ spill cold water on her. I just shared what was clear before my eyes. Stress.
Yet, she made me feel that I had somehow used very foul language.
So, what is it really?
Some of us cannot stop saying, ‘I am so stressed….’
Yet others grow springs on their buttocks as soon as we mention the very word (stress) in relation to them.
These occurrences lead us to be open towards the idea of feeling stressed. Doesn’t it all begin with acknowledgment really? Psychologists call this insight. So, step one should be to acknowledge that we are stressed.
It is interesting to bear in mind that insight isn’t always meaningful unless it is operational insight. In other words, unless this insight is put into action towards a positive result, it wouldn’t be that meaningful. For example, I have the insight that I am stressed and I have identified my stressor. I also know that this stressor makes me do terrible things but, I still continue to do those.
Ergo, if I have the insight and I don’t operate in it, I’d still probably continue to engage in self-deprecating behaviors. However, the first step towards operating with insight is always is to recognize that we are stressed. Thus, it all begins with simple awareness.
It’s okay to be (dis)stressed
What is stress?
The term stress was defined by a Hungarian endocrinologist back in 1936. According to Seyle, stress is “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”
What is distress?
Distress occurs when our stress levels are prolonged severe. With the rapid increase in technology, stress levels are also skyrocketing. And sometimes, this stress takes the worst shape in the form of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. Sadly, many of these suicidal attempts become successful. But, can we do anything to prevent such perverse outcomes? Of course, there are grave issues that suicidality presents and they require immediate attention. But, if you think experiencing daily stressors isn’t bad. Think again.
There are numerous studies that support the idea that many health problems are related to stress. Diabetes, heart conditions, depression, body weight have among several others have been associated with stress.
Ultimately, we know that (dis)stress isn’t good for us. It isn’t good for our minds and it isn’t good for our bodies.
Or, is it?
Some stress is good for me: What is eustress?
There is a kind of stress that is actually good for our performance. And it is known as eustress. This is the optimum level of stress that makes us get out of our beds and do the task that needs attention. Wouldn’t it be difficult to work if we fully embrace the idea of nothingness and pseudo-nihilism?
Have you ever met someone who is so ultimately chilled out in life that he essentially doesn’t do anything?
What’s the point of working? I can beg. What’s the point of begging? I can wait for someone to offer food. What’s the point of waiting? I can sleep. What’s the point of sleeping, I can just die. What’s the point of dying, if I ultimately have to die..
Um, let me stop this thought right there. Right before your head spins on this pessimistic thought rollercoaster, let’s add a seat belt of positivity.
This is not the level of chill you need to be at. You need an adequate amount of stress, called eustress that can optimally energize you to achieve your goals. This is a state that is often associated with a state of flow, where your distractions seem to subside along with a boost in performance. Sometimes people call it their ‘zone‘.
And here are a few steps you can apply in your daily life to have a dialogue with stress. Perhaps even an acquaintanceship.
Which stress do I need to befriend?
Eustress is the stress that is beneficial for us. And it can be felt psychologically and physically. It is eustress that helps you achieve your deadlines. Can you think of situations where what might be eustress to you might be distress to another individual? In fact, it is true, one person’s eustress can be another person’s distress.
Given the option of taking either eustress or distress on a life long date, I’d suggest you pick eustress.
Steps to reduce stress:
Listen to your body: It’s amazing how many times our bodies speak to us and we fail to listen. Especially when we are stressed, our bodies give us warning signs such as headaches, dizziness, palpitations, shortness of breath, aches in other parts of our body, heavy perspiration etc. So, next time your body speaks to you, listen to it. There are physical symptoms that your body signals when you are stressed. If something is out of the norm, maybe talk to professionals?
Listen to your mind: Do you find it difficult to concentrate? Do you feel you are under pressure? Do your thoughts always end in negative conclusions such as-I cannot do this task because I have too much on my plate and I would not be able to achieve this. I am bad. I cannot..
If your mind swirls in negativity, anxiety and self-doubts, its a good idea to check your thoughts. You can always create a thought diary.
Try to identify the stressor: Often our daily hassles cause the largest part of our stress. And their accumulation over time can sow the seeds for serious ailments. And sometimes, work pressure, family issues, relationship difficulties and a lack of physical health can cause problems. This is when you can ignite the Sherlock Holmes in you and let him decipher, what is it really that is causing all this? If your Sherlock Holmes is sleeping, talk to a friend, family member, someone you can trust.
Maybe even a mental health professional. It is helpful to know about our trigger areas. This knowledge can differentiate our future responses from reactions.
Ask yourself this question, Isn’t it better if I give a thoughtful response to a stressor instead of reacting immediately and in an apparently unthoughtful fashion?
Answer to the above question would help you understand how you can operate with the insight you have.
Take a break: Once these stressors have been identified. And don’t worry, if you are unable to identify, healthcare providers are trained to help you navigate these. Consider paying a visit to a healthcare practitioner such as a psychologist. Try to give yourself some breathing time from this stressor. If it’s your significant other who is the cause of constant issues, you can discuss the same with your healthcare provider. Or if its job related, think about going for short breaks? Maybe even a walk with your favorite music playing on earphones.
Exercise: This cannot be emphasized enough. The number of people who have been relieved of their physical pains after exercising is too large for us to take the gift of exercise lightly. Exercise boosts our immune system and aids in providing us with a healthy mind and a healthy body. Did you know that exercise can improve sleep disturbances such as insomnia? I guess you already know the benefits of exercise. If you know all this, how about you actually step into that gym, park or yoga class? If you anyway do this, that’s great. But, we are not done yet. I have another question to ask.
Do you exercise your mind?
Meditate: There are several ways of meditating out there. There’s transcendental meditation, body-scan meditation, zen meditation, yoga Nidra etc. Fun fact: Yoga is in fact, meditation. However, in pop culture, we consider it to have two parts: body and mind. It is essentially just one. And this is why, yoga is called, joining, merging of the individual self with the universal self. Doing yoga isn’t the same as following Hindu religion. Doing yoga, in fact, being in yoga is being in a state of a healthy balance of consciousness of the body and mind. That’s why its called, being in yoga. And meditation is just that.
Perhaps focusing on sound meditation, also known as mantra yoga is not convenient for you. How about you try guided meditation? Give yourself a week to see which kind of meditation suits you the most. These days, mindfulness meditation has a lot to offer in terms of research evidence of positive effects and loads of free recordings to listen to.
Here is a link to breathing meditation
Join a Club to your Flow State: And don’t panic. If you don’t like meeting new people all that much, maybe even join a book-club. I tricked you there but, basically, the point is to get out of your comfort zone, even if slightly so (get in eustress state) to do things that give you most joy. Even though this might sound counter-intuitive, the idea of challenging yourself when you are actually struggling with challenges and other stressors.
But, hear me out.
When you focus on activities that give you pure joy; a state of flow, if you may. Then, it isn’t rare to lose track of time, feel exhilarated even, and fully involved in a preferred activity while you are in a flow state, doing what you love doing. For some people, jogging gives them that state. Ever heard of a runner’s high? It is just that. Dancers, gamers and even writers and avid readers will happily express the sheer joy of being in that state. Why don’t you find what brings you in a flow state and do it?
Practice Self Compassion: Start by asking yourself,
Can I be kind to myself even if everything isn’t okay?
Can I catch myself whenever I have excessive self-critical thoughts?
It is amazing how much we criticize ourselves. Sometimes, our biggest critique is the person staring back in the mirror. And that’s okay if the critique happens once in a while. But, if we are in a constant zone of self-critique and measuring each decision with a yardstick of mistakes then it is a very unhealthy practice. Our thoughts directly affect our physiology. And an unhealthy mind finds it easy to befriend an unhealthy body. Indeed, it is better if we practice the art of self-compassion.
Ask yourself these
Did you know? Touch is a great way to ignite a feeling of compassion? You can do a simple exercise of touching your heart, sitting upright or laying down with hands and legs at a 45 degree angle from the axis of the body and repeating some positive affirmations to yourself. Some of these affirmations could be:
‘I am practicing self-compassion’.
‘In this moment, I love myself as a whole. I love myself in body and in mind’.
You can choose a positive statement that you might want to repeat to yourself.
Really, it is all right to acknowledge that you are stressed. And some stress is even good for us. Eustress energizes us to perform optimally. Yet, being in a continuous state of stress for extended durations can be detrimental to our health. And it is of utmost importance that we take good care of our health, practice self-compassion. You should be aware of both mental and physical health. And you should respect and strengthen your mental and physical health. Exercise, meditate, take a break, and most importantly, develop a dialogue with yourself. So, next time your body talks to you, listen. In fact, when you are stressed, you should talk about it to health care professionals.
You can ask yourself the following questions to become aware of their importance:
- When was the last time you felt truly stress-free?
- Can you think about what was the reason(s) of feeling this way?
- Have you made any efforts of feeling stress-free? If yes, what are those?
- Do you exercise?
- Do you meditate?
- Have you discovered what brings you in your flow state?
- How often do you participate in activities that give you pure joy?
- Do you practice self-compassion?
Previously Published on The Mind Mantra