Stress is the normal physiological response of our body when feeling threatened or in danger. Whether facing real or imagined danger, our body instantly enters the fight or flight mode. This reaction to stress exists to protect us. In emergency situations, this reaction can save our life by providing the additional strength and energy required to defend ourselves.
Our level of stress is influenced by internal and external factors. Our jobs, interpersonal relationships, family situations and all other challenges or difficulties that we encounter on a daily basis are amongst the external factors. Internal factors include our physical and mental health as well as our eating, sleeping or exercising habits.
High levels of stress can trigger health problems including heart diseases, weight problems, chronic digestive problems, depression.
Tolerance vs Resilience
There are two ways to approach stress: tolerance and resilience. Tolerance to stress is the capacity to persevere and battle through stress when under pressure. Resilience, on the other hand, refers to the capacity to call upon one’s personal resources to overcome difficult situations without enduring the effects of stress and even to consider these situations as opportunities to grow, learn and strengthen the positive.
We can measure tolerance by the amount of stress that we can cope with without crashing. Resilience to stress is measured by the capacity to face adversity without becoming stressed. The best way to manage stress is to become more resilient to it which enables us to reach an improved state of physical and mental well-being whilst remaining productive at work.
What can you do to build your resilience to stress?
- Nurture your relationships with your loved ones and friends.
Do you spend enough quality time with those who count for you? Nurturing your relationships with your loved ones can lower stress by increasing empathy, love and feeling helped and supported. Spend quality time with them, without TV or phones, listen to each other and communicate mindfully. Distance yourself from relationships that negatively impact your wellbeing.
- Book appointments with yourself to do things that make you happy.
Do you manage to take time out for yourself every week without feeling guilty? Do you do activities that bring you joy?
Hobbies are a pleasant way to leave your worries aside for a moment and unwind efficiently. These activities are essential to rest and recuperate. If you do not have time to have fun, it is possible that you are investing too much time in one of the other areas of your life (work, studies, relationships). Brighten up your life with feel good activities. Stock up on positive feelings and memories that will keep your spirits up during times when you’re not feeling that good.
- Review your time management.
Are you multi-tasking all the time thinking it will make you more productive? Studies show that the brain cannot actually multi-task so when we think we can do more things in less time, it is not actually true. Try doing one thing at a time and see how quickly you whizz through your to do list.
Exercising reduces the effects of stress and amongst many other things improves blood circulation to all organs and muscles, strengthens your vitality and regulates blood pressure. Exercising gives your body the chance to release the excess of energy and tension carried throughout the day. It releases feel good hormones and increases your ability to concentrate afterwards. Pick a sport that make you feel good and build it into your routine.
- Make time to relax
Relaxation techniques are one of the most effective ways to bring your body and mind back into a state of calmness. There are plenty of techniques to choose from including muscular relaxation, breathing, yoga moves, sophrology or mindfulness. Even if you only have 10 minutes a day to relax, it is enough to keep your stress levels in check. Try different ones, see what works for you and stick with it.
- Eat well
Eating a varied and healthy diet makes us more resistant to stress.
- Get enough sleep
Another basic physiological need not to ignore. When we don’t sleep enough or do not sleep well, we are not able to perform at our best. Make sure you get the sleep your body needs. If you struggle during the day, try micro-naps or power-naps which are enough to raise your energy levels and keep you going through the day. More info on improving your sleep quality here.
- Be grateful.
Increase your awareness of all the positive things happening in your life. Why not start a gratitude journal in which you can list all the little things that you are grateful for? This activity strengthens positivity, optimism and hope, a reminder of all the good that is already in our lives.
- Be kind to yourself.
You are human and not everything can be perfect. Give yourself a break every now and then. Treat yourself kindly, recognise how well you are doing already. Reduce negative thoughts.
In her latest book “Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom and Wonder”, Arianna Huffington explores some of these strategies in greater depth (and many others) inviting us to reflect on our own situation and take action to nurture our wellbeing, develop our resilience to stress so we don’t end up hitting a wall and burning out. Iliyana Stareva has recently written a thorough review and summary of the book which I urge you to read now if you are serious about creating a life full of vitality and meaning for yourself.
Practising the above strategies are simple and effective ways to nurture your mental and physical wellbeing. By cultivating positive feelings and hope even when facing difficult situations, you will improve your relationships with your loved ones, friends and work colleagues. You will see your quality of life improve and your stress levels lower.
What will you do now to increase your resilience to stress?