Stress is the body’s natural response to feeling under threat. A little stress tends to motivate us and helps us focus but too much can soon have us feeling overwhelmed and, if we experience it for too long, it can interfere with our lives and make us ill (mentally and physically).
Understanding what causes us stress and taking action to manage our stress levels is a key part of looking after our well-being.
Your stress response Everyone responds to stress differently and each one of us has a personal stress threshold, the point at which things start to feel too much.
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.
I believe if we can learn what our capacity is and what it feels like when the backpack is getting too heavy (recognise our personal symptoms of stress) then we can take action to recover our resilience and take responsibility for our mental health.
Your unique backpack The size of your backpack, and how much you can carry before it is too heavy for you, is as individual as you are.
How much room you have at the top of the pack (headspace) corresponds to your tolerance.
This is why sometimes you feel strong enough to deal with a big stressor, other times a small thing can feel overwhelming and why something that might cause an issue for one person may not bother another.
What are you carrying? There are many sources of stress ranging from those big life changes to issues in our everyday lives. Even what might be considered positive events, such as a wedding, moving home or changing job, can cause stress.
Common stressors are our health, work, finances, family, relationships and bereavement.
No matter the cause, all stress ends up in your backpack. The more stress we are under the heavier the load.
It is when the limit of our backpack is reached that we start to struggle.
Are you struggling? Just like the capacity of our individual backpack, our stress response is unique too. Knowing how you behave, feel and think when you are feeling stressed can be used as warning lights that you need to manage your load.
Some common signs are: being irritable or tearful, an inability to concentrate, pay attention or make decisions, tiredness, headaches or upset stomach.
Other signs are behavioural: dropping hobbies, not wanting to socialise, soothing with food or not eating very much, drinking or smoking more and avoiding the situations that are troubling you.
All of which are normal responses to overload but they don’t help us in the long run.
Ways to manage your load There are various coping activities that enable us to carry our load and even reduce the contents of our backpack.
Just like your reaction to stress, the actions that work will be unique to you but here are some that have worked for others:
> examine the contents and see what action can be taken - sometimes just listing our troubles helps us feel more in control of them
> talk to someone about worries and concerns - sharing can help us own what we are carrying, bringing it into the light
> get active with exercise - moving physically sets off a chain reaction in the body, renewing cells and releasing endorphins
> step away from tech - we are increasingly attached to our screens and the information we find there, however such interactions don't give the brain a break from thinking
> maintain your hobbies/social life - there are reasons we have particular chosen pastimes - they bring us joy and help us relax
> get to bed early - sleep is a medicine everyone should take, the brain needs sleep to process the experiences of the day and be ready for tomorrow
> eat well - giving the body the fuel it needs means we can aren't stressing our bodily functions
> be mindful - bringing awareness to your thoughts, feelings and actions can help you tune in to what you need and so make the best choice for your well-being
Ensuring we make time for such activities helps us to manage the load.
Keep on moving Stress comes at us from all sides. Some days are like a walk in the park and other days are a hike to the top of a mountain.
To keep on moving and not stumble due to the weight of what you are mentally carrying, take time to understand your unique backpack capacity, your behaviour when struggling and the ways that work for you to lighten the load.
Taking responsibility for how much you're carrying can make a real difference to your health and wellbeing.
Take care of you.
Share below activities you use that help you manage your load
you may help someone else manage theirs