Stress is a state of mental strain that is caused by adverse or demanding circumstances.
It is a normal human reaction to experience stress. In fact, it plays an important role in helping to protect us from danger. For example, no doubt you have heard of the flight or fight response.
There are two kinds of stress:
Eustress, which is a kind of helpful stress. It serves to increase motivation, stimulation and social connection.
Dystress, this, on the other hand, is what many consider unhelpful stress. It reduces our ability to think flexibly, reduces our motivation and productivity, and can lead to us withdrawing from others.
However, it’s really important to know that it’s not strictly stress that harms us, it is our reactions to stress that cause us difficulty.
Dealing with stress, i.e., your reactions, are an individual thing.
Stress can have a cumulative effect. Think of a bath. If you keep adding an extra cup of water, the bath will keep filling up. Similarly, if you keep experiencing bad stress, like water in a bath, it will keep adding up.
When a bath overflows – meaning that your stress gets too much (your stress bath), it can lead to mental health issues and feelings of being overwhelmed or unable to cope.
Like an overflowing bath, the way to deal with the overflow of stress is to reduce the sources of it by tackling them bit by bit.
See it as pulling out the bath plug a little to reduce the overflow. You can do this by identifying what creates stress for you – what triggers it off?
To continue the analogy, I don’t mean you should add bubbles to your bath. It might make the bath look nicer, but it is not going to fix the issue at the end of the day.
What coping strategies can work for you?
Below are some helpful strategies – but please choose what is best for you.
Your experience of stress is an individual thing.
- Exercise and activity are great for relaxation and reducing pressure.
- Getting the right amount of sleep.
- Connecting with friends and family and ensuring you have others around who can support you.
- Focusing on small achievements, rather than only aiming for big goals which might take you quite a while to achieve.
- Doing things that are fun or have meaning for you.
- Reframing your thinking so that it is positive and helpful for you.
- Practising breathing exercises, meditation or relaxation.
For some people, being on an eating plan on top of experiencing life’s stresses and strains can be motivating and helpful, while others feel like it adds to their stress bath.
If you feel your stress bath getting deeper:
- Focus on one day at a time with your eating.
- Set yourself realistic expectations of what is possible within a week.
- Set yourself small goals and celebrate small achievements.
- Know the trigger events that hinder your wellness plan. Consider what leads you to overeat, skip meals or gravitate to fatty and sugary foods.
Identifying and letting out some of the stress factors from your stress bath (pulling out the plug, so to speak) can make stress a little more tolerable. You can then focus on what you can control – that is, your exercise, your eating plan and the other strategies we discussed above.
So, the summary is:
- Stress is a normal part of life.
- Stress is cumulative and can make situations feel overwhelming.
- How you react to stress is up to you. Sometimes you can’t make it go away, but you can control your reaction.
- It’s an individual thing. What works for you may be different to what works for someone else.
- Pull out the stress plug by using some of the strategies above.
- Separate this into what you can and can’t control.
- You can control your eating and exercise. Put plans in place to control these in a positive way during stressful times.