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  • Writer's pictureSamantha

How to cope with stress

I’m stressed! We often say this, or hear others say it – is it a modern-day phenomenon? If you are stressed, is all stress bad for you? When does stress become unhealthy?

The good news is not all stress is bad for you, a certain amount of stress gives you the motivation to get things done, to move forwards. This type of stress is called “eustress”- stress that leads to a positive response. The feelings that occur when we experience this positive stress are happiness, excitement, and accomplishment. Eustress will be different for everyone depending on their situation.

Events where you may experience eustress are:

  • Getting married

  • Going on holiday

  • Exercising

  • A new relationship

In these situations, you may feel excited, have an adrenaline rush but it remains manageable, and the overall feelings suggest something that is pleasurable and enjoyable.

Whether stress is good or bad is often about an individual’s control of the stressor. If you have control, you feel comfortable, it is when you feel out of control that the stressor leads to a negative response and becomes “distress” not “eustress”.

So, what flips the coin from good to bad stress? It is when stress becomes chronic and, as stated earlier, situations feel out of our control. The body takes on a heightened physiological response. This physiological response is based on the fight/flight reaction. The fight flight mechanism was used to protect humans from danger in primitive times. It works by the stressor sending a response to the autonomic nervous system alerting us of danger – this then activates the sympathetic nervous system, releasing hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine. Our senses then think ‘danger’, our heart rate increases, we become hyper aware, and this enables us to remove ourselves out of danger’s way.

In today’s world the physiological response to stress is the same as in primitive times but the threats are different. If we trigger the stress response, the stressor does not go away, and we feel out of control. Our bodies stay in this fight/flight state and our bodies and minds don’t get a chance to rest and recover. Then stress becomes negative and overwhelming and has a negative impact on mental health. It makes everything seem like a struggle. You may find a lack of enjoyment in something you used to enjoy. An example would be work stress – you may have enjoyed your job, but the pressure starts to build, you get more and more work to complete, you are afraid to say no, and the level at which you are working becomes intolerable.

This stress may lead to symptoms such as:

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Burnout

What can you do to ensure you don’t reach this point and tip the balance?

  • Make time for self-care. Doing something you enjoy is important to release stress and protect our mental health

  • Exercise. Physical exercise is a great stress buster, it increases the production of the brain’s neurotransmitters known as endorphins, which help us to feel good. Just a 30-minute walk is enough

  • Take time to connect with friends and family. Just meeting up for a coffee and having a chat can make you feel instantly better

  • Learn to say NO. You don’t have to say yes to everything. Saying no creates boundaries and this sends a message that you are not willing to be taken advantage of, that you value your own time and space

  • Sleep. Make sure you get enough. When we are sleep deprived everything seems so much worse, our thinking becomes distorted. Getting rest restores our bodies and our minds.

  • Try yoga and meditation. This teaches you how to slow down

  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet

  • Have a good scream and shout. This is one of my favourites but don’t do this in the street!

It is impossible to go through life without stress. The aim is to keep stress at a manageable level, so you stay in a state of eustress, and do not tip into distress.

Remember that old wife’s saying, “you can’t drink from an empty cup”?

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes” Anne Lamott

Exam season is upon us, and this can feel scary, remember to use these strategies to give yourself a break. If you are struggling reach out and talk to someone.


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