OPINION: Train your mind and body to cope with stress - Sophie Mei Lan
If you were to write a list of possible causes of stress from recent events, I bet it’d be pretty long.
From relationship breakdowns in lockdown to pandemic induced health anxiety, rising poverty and that’s not to mention a constantly changing political landscape worldwide. All of these events bring about uncertainty and fear, and increase our stress levels (with 84.9% of adults reporting feeling stressed or anxious as a result of the pandemic).
Even a ‘good’ dose of stress like football fans feel while watching their team play, may now be challenging as there isn’t the same community chat amongst fans following a match as people leave the stadium.
Even the quick chat with colleagues at the water fountain has diminished. Instead, we are at home watching TV, scrolling through the news and experiencing a build-up of adrenaline without the same release after consuming any stress inducing event, leaving us with rocketing stress levels as cortisol is preparing our mind and body for an attacking tiger, albeit a metaphorical one.
Even so-called positive news like the promise of a vaccine may have boosted one’s mood temporarily before leaving people with a ‘come down’ with the continued uncertainty about what, when and how.
We all, however, have differing responses when we experience an event, with different responses to triggers.
More optimistically, we can train and design our minds and bodies to best cope with our response to stress, which is essentially our body’s reaction to pressures from a situation or life event. It’s so important we do this as stress related issues contribute to 70% of visits to the GP.
A good way to counteract cortisol - our stress hormones, our fight or flight response - is with exercise and deep breathing which releases endorphins, our happy hormones. Being outdoors can give some perspective, or try a virtual yoga or dance class. Just moving more can really help and give you a better chance at eating and sleeping well, which are also important factors in building our resilience to daily life stressers.
It’s easy for people to say “just relax” more too but I find goal-setting and breaking every task I need to do into bite size chunks and planning it out, helps reduce any overwhelming feelings. I also include time to ‘wind down’ within that plan too.
Another way to manage stress is by expressing yourself through creativity and sharing your worries, fears and self-doubts, whether it be with a health professional or a loved one - once we share our woes it can feel like a huge burden has lifted.
I know as someone with anxiety and chronic fatigue that while I can’t ‘rid’ my life of stress (and sometimes it can be a good thing when it comes to performance adrenaline) but how I manage my stress level is paramount to my overall mental and physical wellbeing. I have even changed my language around ‘battling’ mental health problems and stress to ‘adapting’ and ‘managing’ these instead.