Properly managed stress can become beneficial
Stress is a common but complex phenomenon that everyone describes differently. Often this feeling is identified with negative experiences and emotions and it‘s less often spoken about the potential benefits of stress for greater human empowerment. Dainora, a psychologist at the Mindletic Emotional Gym, talks about how to recognise, manage and make the most of stress.
Can we identify what stress really is?
For a long time, stress has been understood as the body's automatic response to any trigger: temperature changes, a weekend off from work, after which will need to go back to work, or any other stimulus. Later on, based on new academic research, the concept of stress has also expanded. It was noticed that stress, however, is not just an uncontrolled, automatic response of the body, but is also closely linked to the assessment of the situation – how the person himself assesses, what a particular situation requires of him and how much a person feels that he has the resources and abilities to meet these requirements. If a person believes in his ability to overcome the situation (I can properly prepare for the waiting exam), a person may feel motivated, active, and the resulting stress may be low. However, if a person feels that the situation exceeds his available time, strength, or other resources, he may experience feelings of helplessness, defeat, and a higher level of stress.
What symptoms do we experience when we are stressed?
When faced with a stressful situation, our body is as if mobilized to “fight or flight”: heart rate increases, breathing becomes more frequent, pupils dilate, more blood enters the muscles and brain, limbs may feel cold, and other body reactions may occur. People often seem to be afraid of the stress they experience, associating it with more sweating, poorer performance in public, or unpleasant emotions. However, it is important to highlight that lower or moderate levels of stress also expand our functionality, increases the activity of the immune system, resistance to disease, improves thinking, increases work capacity. At the same time, it is important to know that we experience stress in moments of both - happiness and sadness. For example, we feel stress simultaneously when we win and when we lose money in the lottery, even though these feelings are accompanied by two completely different backgrounds.
When can stress become useless?
If we are talking about episodic stress, which suddenly rises in the face of a stressful situation and disappears when it is resolved, it is such stress that is completely natural and, as mentioned, can be beneficial. However, if we experience long-term, chronic stress, the cause of which we cannot solve or ignore it in any way, or maybe we are accustomed to this state and no longer identify it as stress experience, such stress can lead to serious health problems. However, in this case, there is also a lot that depends on the person’s coping methods.
What are the most effective ways of coping with stress?
In general, several ways of coping with stress can be distinguished: problem-oriented and emotion-oriented. Which one is more effective depends on the situation, how much we can control it. The problem-oriented strategy is quite specific - to self-assess the situation (for example, the work task that has arisen), what it requires of us, what resources we need to accomplish it, and start implementing it. In this way, we not only don’t allow stress to grow but together, by achieving good results, we can strengthen self-esteem, self-image. However, if we are faced with a situation where we cannot change anything (such as the loss of a loved one or a pandemic), then it makes sense to apply an emotion-oriented strategy, which could let you feel at least a little better. This can be an occupation of a favorite activity by shifting the attention elsewhere, conversations with relatives, religion, the application of relaxation techniques, humor, or many other ways that could let to feel at least a little better. Still, this distraction strategy, when we can deal with a situation but don’t do it, can cause even more stress.
Many people who experience long-term stress choose to divert their thoughts elsewhere and thus "wait out" the problem. Is this the right way to deal with it?
It is often difficult for clients who have been diagnosed with depression or other mental health problems to accept this. Clients say that everything went well, everything was handled for a long time, so why did it happen. However, after analyzing the ways in which stress management was used, most often, clients mention the diversion of thoughts from difficulties in various situations, an attempt to downplay the severity of a problem or not to talk about it. In this case, however, our difficulties do not go away on their own. On the contrary, smaller and larger "stresses" accumulate little by little, are as if collected inside us, and in the long run can lead to health problems.
How can we manage stress to get the most out of it?
It will sound simple, but it all depends on the attitude as well. When you feel stress, you may want to try to rejoice that your body is preparing for the upcoming event, the whole body is activating and focused to make decisions faster, to achieve a better result that would be difficult to achieve in a state of complete relaxation. So whenever possible, I recommend taking stress not as a defeat, but using it as extra help in moving forward and dealing with situations that arise.