Stress can be a positive thing. Our bodies response to stress helps us to stay alert, motivated, and focused. However, it’s when we are stressed too often or for too long that our bodies begin to feel the wear and tare of prolonged stress response.
During the stress response our bodies narrow our focus. Our bodies release hormones such as cortisol that suppresses the immune system and our metabolism. The body begins to shut down systems that aren’t required for fight or flight.
Even our moods are effected as prolonged stress causes hyperarousal, which in turn keeps us awake as we find it hard to turn off our brains. This can lead to a whole host of other issues such as poor health, the inability to concentrate, and can lead to depression.
When we are under prolonged stress we tend to overeat, drink more alcohol, or even take drugs to help relieve the stress. Our ability to reason goes out the window as we do whatever we can to to cope with the stress we feel.
Which is why it’s important to have a plan for those moments when you begin to feel stressed. I’m a big proponent of systems and planning. I’ve written about this a lot and the importance of knowing what to do BEFORE calamity strikes.
Being able to stay calm during stressful moments gives you the ability to see things as they truly are. Stress distorts the true shape of the moment. It deforms your worldview and causes you to see things differently and not necessarily as they are.
This is why it’s important to slow things down enough so that you can RECLAIM the moment BEFORE it gets out of hand. When you feel yourself starting to feel stressed here are a few things that you can do to stay calm and in the moment.
Breathing is probably one of the most important things to consider when you’re starting to feel anxious or stressed.
Shallow breathing is part of the feedback loop that signals the brain that it’s time for fight or flight. That’s why it’s important to take slow deep breathes, it distrups that loop and helps you to remain calm.
There are lots of different breathing techniques but I’m a fan of the 444 method. In short, you breath in deeply for 4 seconds, hold it for 4 seconds and then exhale for 4 seconds. Repeat this a few times while you get to the root of the issue.
2. Understand What is Happening
Don’t deny HOW you’re feeling. Accept it. Don’t tell yourself that you’re not stressed. Admit it. Always remember: never lie to yourself.
You can do this while you’re deep breathing. Pay attention to your body while you breathe. How are you feeling? Are you muscles tense? Are your thoughts eradic?
By labeling your emotions you put yourself in the position to OWN the moment. It gives you the time you need to make necessary changes.
3. Change The Narrative
Part of feeling stressed is having irrational thoughts. Once you understand that you are stressed you then have the ability to change those thoughts into something more constructive to the moment.
During times of stress our thoughts always go to worst case, it’s a survival mechanism. It helps us to decide if we should run or stay and fight. Our subconcious makes intricate calculations very quickly. It’s weighing the pros and cons of running away vs fighting.
In order to take charge you have to start asking yourself questions.
- Am I thinking rationally?
- How likely is this to happen?
- Whats my best course of action?
- How do my choices benefit me and the moment?
4. Visualize Being Calm
Start thinking about how calm feels. See yourself in the moment. Visualize yourself being calm and in control.
Then, start to relax your body. This is all about being in control and reminding your subconcious who’s in charge.
Start thinking about how you’ll respond to the moment. See yourself IN the act of being in control.
Let’s recap. You’ve disrupted your stress response with intentional breathing. You’ve come to terms with what you’re feelings and have labeled it as stress. You’ve challenged your thoughts by asking yourself questions consciously. Finally, you’ve visualized yourself being calm and your response to the moment.
Now that you’ve done ALL of that, it’s time to respond.
Responding may be to walk away. Responding may be to take charge of the moment. Whatever your response is you’ve gone through the motions to clear your mind so that you can respond in a calm manner that best fits the moment.
It’s good to remember what you want to GET out of the moment. If you have a goal in mind then you can check your responses against that goal (before you make them) and ask yourself if your response will help you to reach them. If not, change your response. If so, then go ahead and respond.
A Few More Tips
If you’re finding it difficult to calm yourself, don’t worry, this whole process takes practice. Just stick with it.
After Action Reports
After a particularly stressful moment sit down with a pen and a pad and think about what went right and what went wrong. How did you feel before the moment of stress, in the moment of stress, and how do you feel now?
What should you have done differently? Maybe it went well. Write that down too. Reinforce what went right so that you can do it again.
Find a Centering Object
During stressful moments we spend so much time focusing on the worst case scenario that our irrational thoughts start to get the better of us. Earlier, I spoke about questioning your thoughts. However, that’s not always easy.
This is where a centering object comes into play. It could be anything from a locket to a pen, or a baseball to a pressed flower. Ideally, it’s something small that you can carry with you. If you get into the habit of touching that object whenever you feel stressed it will help you to stay grounded in the moment.
No, this isn’t some mystic voodoo here, it’s rooted in neuroscience and has been proven to help find your center. Many times when we start to get stressed, and are journeying down the path of one worst-case-scenario to the next we need a physical reminder to stop.
Is your centering object soft or hard? Does it have smooth edges or are they rough? Is it light for its size or heavy? What shape does it most resemble?
As these questions run through your mind while touching your centering object you become more grounded in the moment. This gives you space enough to start the process as outlined above.
Know and Understand Your Stress Triggers
Knowing what causes you stress helps you to avoid those causes BEFORE they stress you. If your busy and don’t have time to do everything then focus on making a priority list.
Or, even a top 6 list that you know has to get done each day. From there, you can tick of what gets done and decide if any new tasks should be added to your list (keep it at or below 6) for the day or pushed off till tomorrow.
If you’re really feeling the pressure then let others know that you don’t have time at the moment but will schedule something for later.
Be firm with your boundaries.
Take some time for yourself. Take time off, relax, read a book. Do something you love or just sit around enjoying the moment.
We can all use mental health breaks. Take yours, the world will be here when you get back.