Take a moment to reflect on your levels of stress during the past month. What would you think if I told you right now that stress is a blessing and it is actually trying to help us?
The word stress can have plenty of different definitions, specially if we are trying to define it based on our own experience with stress. Personally I like to use Heidi Hanna’s definition due to its simplicity and applicability: “stress is what happens when demand exceeds capacity”. This definition parts from the perspective of physical energy, meaning that stress is what happens when I perceive that the amount of energy demanded from me exceeds how much energy I have or at least perceive that I have.
There are five key components of this physical energy which are: nutrition, movement, rest, sleep and social support. Each of these can be a demand or capacity depending on our experience and habits in each of them.
Details around each of these components exceed this blog’s purpose so I will just leave you with some food for thought:
- How are your eating habits different when you are stressed?
- Is your energy the same the days you do some physical activity versus the ones you don’t?
- Have you ever been working on a task longer than three hours and have a difficult time focusing?
- Is you day any way different when you haven’t slept enough or at least feel rested?
- Are your confidence and mood in any way different when you feel supported by someone else?
Coming back to stress, it informs us that there is a gap between our demands and capacities, and that action needs to be taken in order to adapt to that situation. It is in this moment that each individual has the opportunity either to react or respond to that information provided, which will for sure have different consequences. Whether we respond or react is pretty much influenced by previous experiences and how one perceives the situation (stress), as a threat or challenge.
Stress is a blessing in its acute form, it’s that type of stress that for a short period of time stimulates the secretion of adrenaline, increases heart rate, concentration, attention, short time memory and even our inmune system. For example, picture yourself standing over the railroad and suddenly hearing a strong noise that makes you realize that the train is coming towards you. The physical and physiological responses that you experiment in that moment are a result of an acute stress that is trying to inform you that you should move to a safer zone in order to survive.
These physiological reactions will probably disappear in a short period of time, nevertheless, how many times do we experiment these same sensations and aren’t in a life threatening situation, for example traffic jam? Even worse, how often have we experienced this for a long period of time, meaning days, weeks, months, even years? This is chronic stress, the type of stress that doesn’t protect nor build us up but rather tears us down.
Unfortunately nowadays we normalized chronic stress as an everyday matter, something that everyone has, and instead of doing something about it we just get used to it, we get used to being in a constant state of alert or “persecution”. The consequences of chronic stress are many and I’m pretty sure you are well aware of them, either by personal experience or you have seen them manifested in someone else, so I’m not going to put any more stress on you by mentioning them (just reflect on that for a minute).
When we are under chronic stress we automatically tend to be on a reactive mode all of the time, either against ourselves or others, and we don’t take time to connect with ourselves and use our curiosity to respond rather than react. You might be thinking, how can we actually do this?
First of all, we can use the breath to connect with ourselves, which is closely related to our brain’s functioning. Think for a moment on how you breath when you just had a fight with someone or even when you are on a traffic jam, probably short, shallow or even a little bit agitated. In order for us to respond instead of react we need energy and information flowing appropriately to the brain, which we can achieve through our breathing pattern. Don’t try to force a deep breathing, since this can cause more stress, rather just focus your attention on how you are breathing, feel and observe without judgement and probably naturally it will start to calm down and smooth.
Curiosity is key to master stress since it gives us the opportunity to step back and assess from another perspective the situation in hand. Some simple questions you can ask yourself during or even after a stressful situation are:
- What is this trying to tell me about the situation and myself?
- What things are under my control and what can I do about them?
- What do I need most in this moment?
- What resources (people, strategies) do I have that could help me?
- What can I be grateful for in this moment? (There is always something to be grateful for)
Now, connected with ourselves and being curious we can respond (action) to stress rather than react. Taking time to apply these easy steps can make a big difference in our own relationship with stress, health, and quality of life.
I now invite you to be curious for a moment and think of your personal relationship with stress, do you see it as a threat or rather a challenge? Do you tend to react or respond? Which are the first signs you perceive when you are stressed? Think of a stressful situation you experienced recently, what could you do different the next time?
As with many other aspects of life, practice is key in mastering a new skill, so the more we can connect with ourselves, use curiosity to respond instead of react, the better will our relationship with stress, ourselves and others be.
Remember, stress is giving us information to fuel a positive change in our lives, stress helps us wake up every morning to achieve our goals and dreams, it drives us to take challenges, grow, adapt, and even survive real threats. Stress shouldn’t be an unbearable load that affects our well being and interpersonal relationships neither should it be ignored, pushed away or normalized.
Stress is meant to be used for good. Will stress be your best friend or your worst enemy? The choice is yours.
About 4Geeks: 4Geeks is a global product development and growth marketing company, and all-in-between, focused on 10X ROI for startups, small and mid-size companies around the world. 4Geeks serves industries like E-Commerce & Retail, Startups, HealthTech, Marketing, Banking & FinTech and Real Estate. Headquartered in United States, and nearshore development centers in Mexico and Costa Rica. Pura Vida!
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Founded in 2012 by Allan Porras, 4Geeks is a global software engineering and revenue growth consulting firm for Fortune 500, Global 2000 and fast-growing SMBs. Provides top solutions to multiple industries including Retail, Healthcare, Banking & Financial Services, B2B SaaS, Manufacturing and Education. HQ in the USA, and delivery centers across Latin America.