Is Stress a Choice?
Most people would agree that chronic stress can have serious health consequences. Humans are the only animals who can experience a stress response without an actual stressor present. In other words, we humans only have to “think about” a stressful situation and we can experience stress in our bodies. This “gift” of imagining can also become a life threatening curse. For those who are not schooled in managing a stress response, it can feel overwhelming and out of our control. Thinking stressful thoughts causes your body to go into what is called a “fight or flight response”. In the jungle, this response is helpful and practical. The animal receives signals from the brain whether to fight the enemy or run away. Since most of human stress does not require these responses, we are stuck with the hormonal and chemical effects (increased stress hormones) in our body which can, over time, create many health challenges (even heart disease and cancer). Most of us know, however, there is much we can do to manage the predictable stresses in our lives.
We can learn to manage our stress effectively through some very useful and powerful techniques. We teach these techniques at our College, and they have phenomenal effects on peace of mind. Here are five stress management techniques that will have you back in charge of your own mental and physical health.
Find the Source
If you are having a stress response in your body, there is a cause. Mostly it is your thoughts about a situation that is happening now or has happened in the past. Finding the source of your stress can assist you to eliminate* it and calm your mind. This may take some time. Begin by writing down the stressful thought. Then play investigator. Ask yourself if the idea is correct. What kinds of evidence do you have that this idea is correct? If you can say with certainty that the idea is true, then start planning your solution. Getting into right action is one of the best ways you can manage stress.
Take Excellent Care of Yourself
This is a lifelong obligation. If it is not modelled for you, then find someone who eats properly, exercises, gets enough sleep and keeps in balance, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually and do what they do. Alternatively, hire a wellness coach to assist you. This is your “saving for a rainy day” fund. If the rain (stress) hits you hard, you have at least banked some health and well-being to combat the difficulties in your life circumstances.
Find Your Calling
Research in Positive Psychology tells us that people who are actively involved in meaningful pursuits, experience less stress and depression. People who believe that they are part of a greater purpose tend to experience more happiness – which is an antidote to stress. Think of any time when you have been excited about an idea or involved in a project that you felt was important. You had less time to fret and worry about events that perhaps were never going to happen anyway. When you are happy, you attract good things and good people into your life and tend to under-react to so-called adverse events.
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Ask for Help
If you believe this problem is large enough to affect your ability to cope, ask for help. This could be asking a friend to babysit your children, or if you believe the stress is chronic, getting some help from a counsellor or life coach to discover patterns from the past that keep repeating themselves (counselling) or plan and set some goals to create a more prosperous future (life coaching).
Practice Breathing, Mindfulness and Mind Management
Becoming aware of stressful thoughts and learning to breathe deeply, meditate and stay present will assist you to train your mind. An untamed mind can lead to a host of physical and mental problems. Self-discipline and practice are the antidotes.
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It is important to realize that we all have bumps on our road. There are times when life goes smoothly and others when there are challenges. We can learn concrete techniques to make those challenging times less painful. Stressful events are a fact of life, but how we choose to interpret these events gives us the beauty of choice. We can see a single event as terrible” (stress causing) or we can interpret it as something entirely different. This is where we begin to experience stress as a choice. Practice this the next time you have a stressful thought. Replace the idea with one of gratitude or even neutrality. You will begin to see how powerful you are and how much of the stress your life is up to you.