Stress Well, Be Well: A holistic approach to stress managementApr 15, 2023
Did you know over one in four workers report being highly stressed (StatCan, 2010) every day of their lives. April is stress awareness month in Canada. From the 1st to the 30th qualified health professionals including yoga therapists join a national, cooperative effort to share information about what stress is, correct harmful misconceptions, explore how it can impact your health, and walk through mindset and behaviour transformations to support your wellbeing.
What is stress?
Stress is the experience you have when something you care about is at stake. This is important because it makes something we don’t think about really obvious. Stress and meaning are inextricably linked. You don’t stress out about things you don’t care about, and you can’t create a meaningful life, or do meaningful work, without experiencing some stress.
Your stress response includes your thoughts, emotions, and physical reactions when you’re feeling stressed, as well as how you choose to cope with situations you’d describe as stressful. Stress not inherently harmful.
Distress vs Eustress
Distress is what people often think of when they think of stress. It is the negative stress or “bad” stress, because of how it may affect and results include:
- avoiding opportunities due to elevated levels of concern
- lowered performance due to distraction and trouble focusing
- feelings of irritability, discomfort and unpleasantness
- disrupted appetite and sleep patterns
Distress is most harmful when three things are true:
- You feel inadequate to it
- It isolates you from others
- It feels utterly meaningless and against your will.
Distress, especially when those three things are true can result in negative mental and physical health consequences such as:
- cardiovascular disease
- high blood pressure
- headaches or migraine
- digestive upset
- changes in mood
Eustress is the less commonly considered stress. This positive stress comes with pleasant effects including:
- increases excitement and anticipation
- motivating action and growth
- improving physical and physiological performance
Experiences of eustress include:
- anticipating a first date with butterflies in your stomach
- participating in an important sports event
- the rush of recognition from praise from your boss
- the shiver of excitement when of engaging a room of listeners when speaking in public
Ways to think about stress
Stress is harmful
If you believe stress depletes your health and vitality, debilitates your performance and productivity, inhibits your learning and growth and that the effects of stress are negative you probably seek to avoid stressful experiences when possible. You might distract yourself from the cause of the stress instead of dealing with it, or focus on getting rid of their feelings of stress instead of taking steps to address its source. You might turn to alcohol or other substances or addictions to escape the stress or withdraw your energy and attention from whatever relationship, role, or goal is causing the stress.
Stress is helpful
If you believe experiencing stress enhances your performance and productivity, improves your health and vitality, facilitates your learning and growth you probably recognize that the effects of stress can be positive and should be utilized. You might view stressful situations as a challenge, not an overwhelming problem and have greater confidence in your ability to cope with those challenges. It might also feel more natural to you to find meaning in difficult circumstances.
When you experience stress you might accept the fact that the stressful event has occurred and is real and identify a strategy for dealing with the source of stress. This could include seeking information, help, or advice so you can take steps to overcome, remove, or change the source of stress. You probably try to make the best of the situation by viewing it in a more positive way or by using it as an opportunity to grow.
Your mindset applies to experiences, like stress, where you already have a point of view about something that you care about and impacts your experience, beyond a preference, learned fact or opinion. They often reflect your values and philosophy and influence how you think the world works.
Mindsets are activated by memory, situations you find yourself in, remarks you hear, and set off a cascade of thoughts, emotions, and goals that shape how you respond to life. Every time you experience stress, your mindset about it is triggered. How many moments of your day do you describe as stressful or say things like “This is so stressful” or “I’m so stressed”?
Each time you do, you alter your biochemistry and, ultimately, how you respond to whatever has triggered the stress. Unlike a placebo effect, which is a manipulation where someone is telling you how to think about something that you don’t have any preconceived notions about, the consequences of a mindset snowball over time, increasing in influence and long-term impact. Your mindset is a filter that colours how you think, feel, and act.
A fun example of this is in a 2011 Yale University study in the journal of the American Psychological Association found that mindset impacted how much ghrelin, a hunger hormone was secreted in participants who consumed milkshakes with the same number of calories. All participants held the common mindset that high calorie milkshakes are more satisfying and so should decrease hunger hormone levels. Participants who thought they were consuming a high calorie beverage experienced a significant drop in levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone. Those who believed they were consuming a low calorie beverage experienced a increase in levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, demonstrating that a difference in belief can impact physiological changes like hormone secretion and digestion.
Mindset research has demonstrated the impact of changing our fundamental beliefs about how the world works shifts your physical reality. Since how you perceive stress can change your experience from one of distress to one of eustress, thus impacting your health outcomes, you might find it beneficial to engage in some simple mindset shifting practices.
Holistic Yoga Therapy for Stress Management
I approach our work to shift mindset and manage your stress in the following steps:
- Assessment: In addition to assessing markers of physical stress including pain, we will assess a number of quality of life markers to help determine immediate and long term changes that might be feasible
- Goal review: We will explore your short, medium and long term goals for the practice we will design and do together, as well as how much time you can commit to it
- Practice design to support reflection, mindset recognition and deliberate change to the physical and physiological experiences of distress through better breathing, reduced nervous and muscle tension, improved sleep, lymphatic function, immunity, digestion and elimination which includes trying tools in a morning or evening practice including:
- Prāṇāyāma or mindful breathing
- Dharana or a focused meditation
- Asana or accessible therapeutic movement
- Sound through chanting or humming
- Once distress has been relieved, and mindsets begin to shift, we will review the practice and add strengthening components to prevent future distress and identifying ongoing ways to practice eustress responses.
- Practice testing, where you do your homework by trying to do the practice on a daily basis. We check in regularly to adapt it to suit your life as situations change.
Through your practice you are encouraged to start slowly and begin with a guided breath work practice to calm and centre yourself. As you move through your mindset shifts, you are encouraged to observe how your responses to stressful experiences change, instead of pushing through. This will help reinforce the mindset and restore a sense of meaning and purpose to growth experiences.
Learn more about these five steps to relieving pain and improving your quality of life. They will help you reconnect with your body, breath and mind so you can achieve your goals and feel your best.
Schedule your free no obligation call now and we can explore working together to restore your energy and focus so you can achieve your goals.
Feel more energized, focused and mindful.
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