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How to harness stress

We all know about stress – the busy nature of modern life makes the experience inevitable. But did you know there are different types of stress? The ‘bad’ variety is classified as distress, which involves the familiar symptoms of generalised tension, rapid breathing and feeling overwhelmed, and often leads to poor decision-making and reduced cognitive function. When distress becomes chronic it can trigger serious health concerns.

However, scientists also identify a ‘good’ type of stress: eustress. This is the body’s protective ‘fight or flight’ response, with low-level stressors designed to motivate you to handle challenges or perceived threats. In the short term, this response can be useful, as it gives you a boost in energy, productivity, memory and concentration – that sought-after ‘adrenalin rush’. This explains why some people work best under pressure, and why you can pull out the reserves on deadline. However, the problem arises when this function lingers beyond the stressful situation and you struggle to switch off your mind and body.  

So, how can you make stress work for you? Here are some techniques to take advantage of eustress when it strikes, and others to help keep a lid on the nasty kind.

Be organised
Stress often has a snowballing effect, which feeds off disorder and uncertainty. The best way to keep it in check is to create structure – this can be as simple as a daily to-do list or menu planning, through to long-term goals and schedules. Outlining your time and commitments takes the weight off your mind and allows you to see clearly, putting control of your life back in your hands. That way, when stressful times arise, you’ll have a solid foundation in which to fall back on.

Exercise regularly
This one may seem like a cliché, but it’s classic advice for a reason. Exercise is one of the biggest stress relievers you can find – it releases those feel-good endorphins, calms your thinking, pumps oxygen around the body and energises your mind. It can also foster feelings of achievement and productivity. Any type of physical activity will do – from yoga and swimming to sports and hiking. ‘Adrenalin junkies’ harness the stress response and bathe in its afterglow. You don’t have to jump out of a plane to do the same.

Practice mindfulness
A bit of a buzzword, ‘mindfulness’ is actually an ancient practice based on an Eastern philosophy. Essentially, it’s about creating awareness of the present on a moment-by-moment basis, and ‘tuning’ into your body and mind in a purposeful way. This may sound obvious, but you’ll be surprised at how it changes your perspective on external stressors. The best part is that it can be done at your leisure for just a couple of minutes a day. There are some great apps available to get you started.  

Related articles:
Stress less through exercise
You think I might be stressed?
Make the most of your mornings

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