What is actually stress?
We often talk about feeling stressed and we all tend to perceive it as a negative feeling. Many of us continue fighting stress in the attempt of getting rid of it once and for all. Is it realistic to think that we can and we have to get rid of this universal and ancestral response? Stress is in fact an unavoidable response that our mind and our body experience. Stress is a useful way to communicate there is something bad going on. It’s the amount of stress and, ultimately, what we do with it that determine our well-being.
The Yerkes-Dotson law suggests that there is a relationship between arousal levels and performance, and demonstrates how, when we are in a state of moderate, therefore manageable, stress we in fact perform at our best! It’s when we experience no stress at all (with consequent lack of motivation) or intense stress (with consequence lack of objectivity and reasoning) that we tend to perform very badly.
The first step to take then is to accept that stress is an inevitable and useful part of our lives.
When does stress become chronic?
We experience chronic stress when we have a constant status of high levels of cortisol, which is the hormone responsible for activating stress. This status is persistent and it impacts our body, our minds and our behaviors. Our blood pressure goes up; we become highly sensitive and emotional, we can think less clearly and become extremely pessimistic; we become agitated, upset, anxious and perhaps aggressive with possible negative impact on our health and relationships.
Where can chronic stress lead to? Some of the most well known consequences are anxiety, depression, anger management problems, burnout, relationship problems.
Becoming a resilient person to lessen stress
When we talk about resilience we talk about that specific ability that allows us to bounce back from stressors in life. What is a stressor you may ask? A stressor can be anything really, “anything that knocks us out of our homeostatic balance” (R.Sopolsky). In few words, homeostasis is a state of being, the ideal situation of calm and relaxations. So, when our “emotional brain” (aka the amygdala) gets activated and starts interacting with the most, let’s say, “rational brain” (aka the frontal lobe) we start anticipating things that can happen in the future (which is not per se a bad thing, on the contrary, it’s pretty useful if you think of our survival instinct), taking decisions based on our reflection on the past, but we can also start feeling stress even if nothing has even occurred yet.
That’s why becoming a resilient person will allow you to optimizing your well-being and avoiding to accumulate stress on your mind and your body. You need to bounce back from whatever is activating your anger, worries, upsetting occurrences, and so on.
What if I just wasn’t born as a resilient person?
Well, the good thing is that resilience isn’t genetic, it can be cultivated through awareness and the development of specific strategies. It’s what they call “ordinary magic”. Developing skills, routines, and habits to minimize the impact of stress in life can optimize our well-being. You need to ask yourself: “what am I going to do to manage inevitable stress? What am I going to do to optimize the quality of my life?” Some of the strategies you can develop are, among others: mindfulness-based practices; values clarification and commitment to act upon these values; focus on positive emotions; managing negative emotions when they become too intense; following positive role-models; deciding upon positive lifestyle changes and, if the stress became unmanageable and seeing straight is too overwhelming, following up with counseling.
Thrive! Do what matters the most in your live and stick to it!
How can we work together to lessen your stress?
After analyzing your personal history and which are the strategies and patterns you have used so far, we are going to work on your current situation. We will identify which are those specific circumstances and unwanted thoughts that trigger your stress and focus on your resources to develop new and more effective strategies to control stress. We will work on your way to interpret and face challenging situations, to then empower your capacity to bounce back from difficulties in life. People following structured counseling to lessen the impact of stress generally report benefits in living a more satisfying life, building more stable and gratifying relationships, becoming more optimistic, perceiving lower levels of anxiety, having a higher self-esteem and even feeling physically better.