• Coach Kate

Why So Stressed?

Perhaps this question should be why do we get so stressed?

Well - we don't. We may feel like we do, however, we respond with stress in situations which make us feel uncomfortable or which we believe to be out of our control.

We may believe that certain situations or events or even people make us stressed, but if we take the time to work on how we reacted to those situations and people we can learn to mediate our stress response and make it one that is measured and calm. Essentially we can take back control.

The Science Bit

Take a quick look at this image of a human brain - you'll notice the orange bit - that's our amygdala and it acts as our safety net in a way as it is constantly scanning our environment for threats.

When it perceives a threat then it kicks into action and sends cortisol (known as the 'stress hormone) all over our bodies to prepare us to fight or flee.

Cortisol affects pretty much every part of us; it turns our blood thick & sticky so it will clot quicker if we are injured by the perceived threat, it releases glucose so we have energy to fight or run away, it takes blood away from secondary bodily functions to our arms and legs often causing stress headaches or IBS.

Now this immediate reaction and process was fantastic in the days when we were hunting and gathering as it helped us to survive. In fact, when we are in this state it is known as Survival Mode and it is here where we get that brain fog, where we only want to see the win for us rather than tapping into rational thought, our IQ drops and we become stupid.

However, this is exhausting for us; for our physical and our emotional health and it no longer serves particularly well as we are (for the most part) not running for our lives nor find ourselves in situations where we have to fight for our lives.

The frustrating email or looming deadline are not great but they are not life or death situations yet our body often responds as if they are.

To counteract constantly operating in Survival Mode we need to access our pre-frontal cortex part of our brains so we can remain in Competency Mode. Here we are looking for the win-win for everyone, we are using rational thought and planning to solve the situation and we are taking back control.

Sounds fantastic doesn't it? So how can we remain in Competency Mode even when we are responding with stress?

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Firstly - ascertain if this is good or bad stress. What I mean by this is that often a little stress can be good for us as it motivates us and pushes us by applying pressure. This is known as eustress and it drives us to do more, to be better, to work at peak performance.

The problem is when that pressure becomes too much and we start to feel distressed - this is the bad stuff and is often when that clarity of thought we had initially turns into muddled confusion.

Too much of this invariably results in high anxiety often leading to burnout so we need to be able to learn to control our stress response, to set boundaries so we are not constantly working at peak performance and create effective ways to wind down so we can recover.

To learn more about stress and pressure have a read here.

Let's start with that stress response and start to bring it under control.

Tame Your Stress Monster

We have to deal with micro-doses of stress throughout out day - from the minute our alarm goes (micro-stress-dose), whilst getting ready for our day (kids screaming, lost keys, being 5 mins late) through, during our day (constant emails, long to do list, that irritating colleague) right through to when our heads hit the pillow (scrolling on social media, late nigh TV etc.)

Consider introducing some micro-doses of calm into your day by establishing a morning and evening routine which works for you and gives you time to wind up into and wind down from your day. A quick lunchtime walk or 10 minutes of quiet meditation or reflection helps as do the following techniques.

When you initially feel that stress response beginning to take hold try a classic breathing technique: 7, 11 Breathing:

  • Inhale through your nose for 7 counts

  • Exhale through your mouth for 11 counts

  • Repeat until you feel yourself returning to a calmer state.

Why does this work so effectively? For a few reasons - by counting and concentrating on your breath you are distracting your mind and whirling thoughts from the situation and the technique of in through your nose & out through your mouth is what the body automatically does to calm down so you are telling it to do just that.

For more 'in the moment' stress tools and techniques - get in touch today to see how we can tame your stress monster.

Once you are feeling more relaxed you can now use the Scale of Awfulness (not as horrific as it sounds - promise)

Imagine you have a long line in front of you - at one end is 0 - this is your ultimate comfort zone, your happy place, where you don't have a care in the world. At the other end is 100 - this is utter Armageddon, the worst situation imaginable. As I write this war is raging in Ukraine and civilians are running for their lives - imagine being in that situation. It is not the email from your boss moving the deadline from Friday forward to Tuesday.

Now place your stress response on that scale - actually draw it out and mark it on that line. Where is it? At 30? 50? 80?!

By allowing yourself to evaluate your stress you can look at it for what it really is and begin to take back control.

Let's go further by asking ourselves a few stress questions now that it is on our scale:

  1. How am I responding?

  2. How much will this situation matter in 12 months’ time?

  3. If a lot then what can I do to manage this situation well - what is the win-win?

  4. Who is stopping me from moving positively forwards?

  5. How can I now choose to respond?

  6. Where is my stress now on my Scale of Awfulness?

Again this is all about regaining that control over your initial response and yes it seems laborious and like the last thing you want to do when you feel stress hitting you.

But, the more you work through the process the more automatic it will become as you will begin to immediately assess your stress response to ask why it is even there.

If you want more help on conquering your stress response then let's chat to see how I can help you even more.

Of course; as with all things, prevention is better than cure so fear not - we'll delve into this next week by looking at how we can strengthen our pillars of resilience so that our stress monster rarely gets a chance to attack.


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