Unless you’re Bill Gates, you probably don’t own a private island to escape your stress – and if you asked our friend Bill, he’d probably tell you stress follows him there sometimes, too.
When you make a mistake at work, disagree with your spouse, or have conflict with your children, an upset occurs at work, your body goes into a state of stress – your heart beats faster, your palms get sweaty, and you start to feel panicked. These reactions, known as the fight-or-flight response, initially developed to alert humans to danger – say, a lion about to eat our caveman ancestors – and promote a hasty escape to safety. Though we’re no longer fighting off lions, the same arousal system kicks in during day-to-day conflicts.
These stress hormones affect you more deeply than you realize. No matter what you’re doing – running six miles, typing up a report for work, or a last-minute batch of cookies for tomorrow’s bake sale – your performance lowers automatically when you’re stressed. What’s more, research has shown that stress increases the risk for illness, injury, and immune suppression.
Don’t stress about it – literally! Believe it or not, you can learn manage your body’s natural reactions. Here’s how:
Take A Different Point of View
Sometimes we need to change our perceptions of the experiences in our lives and learn to respond to stressors differently.
For example, is a mistake the end of the world – or a learning opportunity? The default setting for many of us is to feel shame, guilt, disappointment or negativity. Your behaviors reflect that – pouting, complaining, beating yourself up – and will derail you from your goal.
Instead, circumvent the stress by seeing the mistake as an opportunity to learn and improve. The best learning comes from our own experiences: a bit of struggle, overcoming the challenge, and triumph upon your success.
Get Comfortable With Discomfort
There’s a reason why most of us don’t want make the same mistake twice – who wants to be uncomfortable again? When you’re in a stressful situation, take a second to note what led to the stress. Was your child exhibiting any specific behaviors before her temper tantrum? Did you spend too much time procrastinating before finally working on that report at the last minute? We are hardwired to remember the unpleasant experiences more vividly as a survival mechanism. Learning from our own discomfort teaches us to prevent a “next time” from happening.
Take a Moment
The impact of stress on the body continues even after the stressful situation has been resolved. In a study by behavioral scientist John Gottman, conflict can cause a huge spike in heart rate almost immediately – yet recovery can take minutes, or even hours. Even after the issue has been resolved, people remain in a heightened state of stress for a significant period of time. Taking a moment to, as the kids say, “check yourself before you wreck yourself,” can be incredibly powerful in combatting the effects of stress.
Long and deep belly breaths can increase the oxygen to your system, combatting a stress-induced spike in heart rate. Inhale, counting slowly to ten, then exhale (again counting slowly to ten. Place your hands on your belly and make certain it is rising and falling with your breaths.
If you need more time, take it. Go for a walk, workout, pull weeds in your garden or do whatever it takes to get your blood moving again and the adrenaline diluted.
Humans possess an incredible amount of adaptability. Learning to use those adaptation skills to manage stress can be empowering. Controlling stress and your response to it will free you up to become your best, achieve excellence, avoid fears of failing and allow you to become the best person you’re fully capable of becoming.
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