I have been very stressed lately, mainly not from external pressure but because of my emotional reactions to everyday things. So I’m trying to learn a bit more about what stress is and how to deal with it.
Stress is a response to a threat. If we perceive a situation as threatening or overly challenging, our body has a biological response to it. Stress triggers our fight-or-flight response: If we think that we are more powerful than the aggressor (a situation or person), our body prepares to fight the threat. If we feel inferior, it prepares to run away.
This was very useful for our ancestors and it still serves some purpose in today’s world. A little stress can help us to get into tunnel mode and throw all our energy into solving a challenge. Prolonged stress on the other hand can lead to mental and physical health problems.
There are reinforcing circles in our response to stress. One of these circles is stress -> muscle tension -> more stress. Our brain prepares our muscles for a fight, but if this happens too often, our brain interprets this reactive muscle tension as a command to release more stress hormones.
Other reactions to stress that can become their own stress trigger are increased breathing rate, negative thinking, avoidance behaviour, a lowered self-esteem and the inability to analyse and regulate a situation. In order to stop these circles, we can train counteractions to those reactions. The counteractions to these reactions are muscle relaxation, slow and steady breathing, non-judging observation, acceptance, self-encouragement, analysation and regulation of thoughts and feelings. Yes, this list gets more difficult at the end. By training these competences in everyday life, we train our mind to be able to use them even in stressful situations.
In order to be able to relax our muscles during a stressful situation, we can practise Progressive Muscle Relaxation. I did this with a teacher today, but this YouTube video seems to be similar to what I did today. The idea of PMR is to apply tension to a specific muscle group for a few seconds before relaxing it. Through this contrast of tension and relaxation, our body feels the relaxed state of these muscles groups better and can learn to relax muscles more easily.
I will try this in the next weeks and I am excited to learn more techniques to react better to stress.