We all have a definition of stress inside our minds, and it’s something along the lines of the feeling of overwhelm you get from having too much to do, or feeling under pressure for some reason or another.
These are both correct definitions of stress, but actually, stress comes from a lot more places than you might have considered.
How about the stress your body is under when something (or someone!) upsets you, for example? It’s also stressful to your body when it isn’t getting the nutrition it needs, or if you’re dehydrated, not getting enough good quality sleep, or overdoing the exercise.
Even drinking too much coffee is ‘revving up’ and over stimulating your stress system. And what about an injury or illness; your body is going to be under higher stress while you’re recovering.
We are not designed to never be stressed – it is another source of challenge for our bodies, and as long as we don’t go over the top with it, it is overall likely not to be a big deal. The issues tend to come when stress goes on for a long time.
The knock on effects of long term stress stretch far and wide. Increased food cravings and finding losing weight difficult are two which immediately come to mind; then there are mental health issues, cardiovascular issues, gut issues…. The list goes on.
So, if you feel stress is an issue for you, how can you monitor it?
The first and most simple way is to simply pay attention to how you’re feeling and keep a note. You’ll soon see any positive or negative trends popping up.
HRV is another great tool. A quick basic low-down is that the interval between your heart beats varies a tiny amount with each beat. The more it varies, the greater your heart rate variability and the lower your bodies perceived stress. The less it varies, the lower your heart rate variability, and the higher your bodies perceived stress. You can track HRV with various activity trackers, or with a chest strap and phone app (I can give you more info on this if you’d like, just ask).
And what changes are going to have the biggest impact on stress?
The answer to this is to try some things and see what works best for you, because this is where it become apparent how different we are as individuals. Some people will recharge well when they’re given time to read a book, others hate every second of that and will get more out of a soak in the bath.
Generally, I’d opt for some kind of active rest and inactive rest several times a week. If you’re serious about dealing with ongoing high stress levels, it needs to become something of a priority in your life, and not something left until 10pm when you’re too tired to give it your real attention.
Active rest could be anything you find restorative – gardening, washing the car, cleaning the house, going for a steady walk….
Inactive rest is usually something which feels rather indulgent. Sitting in the garden to enjoy a cup of tea, eating your breakfast outside, snuggling up on the sofa with a book – even sitting watching something good on TV can count.
Meditation is becoming more mainstream too. Apps like Headspace, Calm or Oak are all great ways to help your mind be quiet and give you the opportunity to de-stress during the day. Although you feel like this is going to take up time in your already busy day, you’re likely to find that a few minutes to yourself actually recharges you and gives you a boost in concentration and focus for the rest of the day.
I hope this gives you plenty of information and ideas for where stress might be coming from and how you can deal with chronic stress, please do get in touch if you’d like some more help or some personalised advice.