We’re increasingly talking about stress more. More acknowledgement of mental health and the profound impact stress can play has brought the conversation to the fore. Stress is a major health issue which we’re only just starting to address. But when it’s come to health issues, we so often get caught up in a cure. Or the eradication of the issue; in this case stress. To do so, would be setting ourselves up for defeat. Our bodies are biologically wired to detect stress as a protective mechanism. Thus, we need to focus our conversation on stress management rather than a cure.
Stress Management not a Cure
Stress management comes in varying different forms. And most of us will have tried and tested methods that were varying levels of helpful. But we can become rather evangelical about this at times. When moving house almost everyone recommended trying mindfulness as if it was some kind of magical cure. Whilst the advice was well meant, no matter how amazing mindfulness might be, it’s not a cure. Let alone the fact that mindfulness isn’t appropriate for everyone because of past experiences or trauma.
Much of the stress management advice trundles out the same tropes suggesting this or that, x or y, will make it better. We all want that pill or magic wand to wave which will vanish our stress. This is a fallacy and it gets our hopes up. Whilst much information online is called stress management. I think we still fall into the trap that the stress will go away. Rather than being lessened in intensity. We need to be more accurate with our messaging.
You Can’t Go Over It, You Can’t Go Under It
For me, stress is like going on a bear hunt – bear with me here (pun very much intended). As the famous Michael Rosen book, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, suggests sometimes:
“We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, oh no we’ll have to go through it”
To my mind this is a far more accurate way of conceptualizing stress. There’s no way of living a life devoid of stress. In fact, to do so would be dangerous. Our body’s stress response can be a literal life saver and times of threat. It’s the reason why we may find that burst of adrenaline to dodge an oncoming car or escape from pursuit that much quicker.
Stress isn’t something with a solution. It doesn’t need resolving. Rather, it’s our understanding of how it works. Why it is necessary. And how we find that integral balance to make stress a friend not a foe. Because you can’t go over, under, around, above or below. We can’t circumvent it. All we can do is equip ourselves to make it the easiest route possible. This is the MANAGEMENT part.
For A Guide to Understanding Our Stress Response read here.
Thinking About Stress
To manage better we need to conceptualize what the stressor(s) is/are and possibly get it down on paper. Enter the stress container. This metaphor suggests that we all have a container into which accumulates all our stress over a given time. As time passes the container will eventually overflow unless we begin to drain it gradually. Unfortunately, we cannot overturn the container and empty it all in one go. For one we all need stress in our lives, it’s a biological mechanism, and two as seen above there’s no simple way of doing this. We must settle for management, the gradual draining of excess stress to maintain an equilibrium.
This is where your management techniques come into play. Our coping strategies, the way we manage, help build us a tap which when turned on drains away the stress. If we continuously employ our strategies then our tap stays on and whilst more stress may accumulate we are also constantly managing the level so it never gets out of hand. Some of our management techniques may turn the tap off. These are the techniques only have short term benefits. They are unhelpful coping strategies.
How do we know if a coping strategy or management technique is helpful or unhelpful? Think about the benefits. Not just the short-term benefits but the long-term benefits too. A helpful coping strategy or management technique which keeps the stress draining will be beneficial long-term. An unhelpful coping strategy or management technique may have short-term benefits but cannot be employed long-term without some kind of negative impact. For example, drinking alcohol is fine on an occasional basis but if it’s our go-to self care option or coping strategy we may develop an over reliance or addiction.
For How to Practise Deep Breathing to Soothe Stress and Anxiety read here.
Stress Management Techniques
What are some of those management techniques? The ones which help ease our journey and make everything feel a little less intense? As with most things. There’s no one size fit all. What works for me might not work for you. And what works for me on Tuesday may no longer be effective by Tuesday afternoon. This will all depend on our past experiences, our preferences, mood, personality and what may have happened that day. As well as, what our stress trigger may be.
Management techniques can be anything from being more organized and learn to say no more to mindfulness, a robust exercise regime or spending our time doing something we enjoy. The key to implementing our techniques is to build them into our routine. Anything that can help manage our level of stress and maintain an equilibrium. We may need to rethink our daily routine or even our priorities to make space for coping strategies. But it’s worth doing so. By making them habit we’re making small changes that will pay dividends.
For Why Self Care is Everyone’s Responsibility read here.
For A Guide to Prioritizing Self Care By Prioritizing You read here.
What are you thoughts on stress management? Do you have any favourite techniques? How do you make time for them? As always, let us know below!