A word about stress
Before I outline what stress is, I want to start by saying that the stress response is a normal, biological reaction that occurs when we encounter situations that threaten us in some way.
That said, we should be concerned about the detrimental impact stress can have on us mentally, physically and emotionally.
Whilst feeling challenged is motivating, helping us to focus and get something done, excessive pressure or demands can become overwhelming and, experiencing such situations for too long, can affect our mental and physical health.
Everyone responds to stressful situations differently because each of us has a personal stress threshold, the point at which things start to feel too much. This is why what might cause an issue for one person may not bother another.
It's like carrying a backpack
I liken it to carrying a backpack. If it feels light then you can walk for a long while but as it gets heavier you are going to need to rest every now and then and, if it’s really too heavy for you then you will struggle to move forward at all.
Related: Simple ways to lighten the load
I believe if we can learn what it feels like when the backpack is getting too heavy (recognise our personal symptoms of stress) then we can strengthen our resilience and take responsibility for our mental health.
The stress response: the body's alarm system
What do we mean by stress?
Usually when we talk about feeling stressed we mean situations or events that feel challenging to us and/or our reaction to that pressure.
What happens in the body?
How does stress affect us mentally, emotionally, physically?
How mindfulness can help
The stress response is a function of the body, in particular, the autonomic nervous system. This means we cannot stop it from happening.
We can, however, learn to recognise the symptoms of stress (sensations in the body, thoughts, feelings and behaviours) and work with them so that we can bring ourselves back into balance. Thereby helping ourselves "feel safe" and turn the stress response down or off.
Part of this system calming includes managing our thoughts.
Many of our feelings of stress are caused by the thoughts we might have about a situation, as there is a feedback loop between thinking and bodily response.
This means it is useful to be able to notice when our thinking is unhelpful, let's call it stinking thinking and step out of mental commentary.
Mindfulness helps us be present with our experience in an objective and non-judgmental way. We can check-in and observe what is going on inside of us.
In time we learn how to use our thoughts, sensations and feelings as early warning systems.
With practice this helps us to respond to challenging situations in ways that take care of us, as well as recognise those times when one more item will result in us needing to put the rucksack down or ask for help to carry it.
Thinking learning mindfulness might be useful to you?