building a better relationship with stress

Stress is a part of life. An emotional response to pressurised situations that can be a tool for motivating and helping us, yet in vast amounts, can be hindering and harmful.

Over the last year, the pandemic has contributed to an overwhelming amount of stress universally, taking its toll on our health and wellbeing. I therefore thought the shared topic of stress would be a suitable starter to begin the BNHC blog;

  • a chance for us to connect-in bravely with the many contributors of stress,
  • learn to listen to our stress signs and triggers,
  • and to bring some guidance on how best to keep stress at an accommodating and healthy level.

 

The thing with stress is that it looks and feels different for everyone. What may be considered stressful for one person, could be exciting for another. Irrespectively, stress may not physically show itself on the outside for some, but for others it can be more aesthetically prominent.

Symptoms of stress (according to the NHS)

  • physical symptoms: headaches or dizziness, muscle tension or pain, stomach problems, chest pain or a faster heartbeat, sexual problems
  • mental symptoms: difficulty concentrating, struggling to make decisions, feeling overwhelmed, constantly worrying, being forgetful
  • other behavioural symptoms: being irritable and snappy, sleeping too much or too little, eating too much or too little, avoiding certain places or people, drinking or smoking more.

Experiences of stress

So, when we are looking at how to manage stress, it is helpful to be open minded to the multitude of expressions that stress can showcase itself, so we can support ourselves and others through challenging times.

For me, stress is having too many things to do and not enough time to do them. I really enjoy considering possibilities and not rushing. Stress manifests itself as teeth grinding and gripping. This causing me immense tension in my jaw, neck and shoulders. I have been known to give myself whiplash and chip my teeth over prolonged periods of stressful times.

I spoke to a number of people in the Sussex community to see what makes them feel stressed and if there are any dominant symptoms they notice when stress creeps in.

Sarah Louise – mother of two and school teacher:

“Stress is triggered for me when I feel like I am not doing something to the best of my ability, or am struggling to fulfil my commitments. I notice my shoulders rise-up and my posture collapses. I get tension headaches, forget to drink water and eat way too much sugar!”

Mick Barry – long running BNHC attendee and golf enthusiast:

“I get stressed by the responsibility for others. Even though I am retired, I have a number of board positions responsibilities with charities and other not-for-profit organisations. I worry about my wife, my children and grandchildren, but who doesn’t, especially in these pandemic times. Stress usually results in lying awake in the middle of the night chewing over problems and then when I do sleep, I grind my teeth which accumulates to its own tension producing problems.”

Kathryn Duckenfield – teacher and social media manager at BNHC

“Noise is my greatest stress and I mainly feel the tension from it in my neck and shoulders.”

Dani Scott – centre manager at BNHC

“I have found that working in high stress jobs for years has meant that I have a much quicker stress reaction than I used to. I used to work in a place where I had to take an emergency phone. At certain times of the year the phone would ring non-stop and it was highly stressful. Today, my body still reacts to the sound of certain ringtones! I’ve realised that my body has a stress habit and I now know that I am stressed through what my body is doing. I get neck and shoulder pain and when I’m severely stressed I get rashes all over my hands.”

Rui Ribeiro – stadium supervisor, AMEX

“Money management is the biggest stress for me. I spent seven years in the Portuguese army where I did my job and everything else was provided for me, but after that I came back into society, I found managing my salary with bills and necessities difficult. When I am overwhelmed and stressed, I get lower back pain and sometimes stomach cramps.”

Here we can see a diversity of answers, but one familiar theme running through each response is FEAR, because the basis of all stress is triggered by our fears. For instance, in relation to the above feedback I can see:

– the fear of being late
– the fear of not doing a good job
– fear of not showcasing our best abilities
– the fear of something going wrong
– the fear of not being able to provide
– the fear of not having enough money
– the fear of disaster

And there are many more to add to that!

Managing stress

So, what is really important to observe when we begin to manage our stress levels is to know how fear inducing the situation is for us (low being a 1, high being a 10). If everything you are encountering and thinking about daily is inducing fear to the high level of 5-10 then you are most definitely going to feel more overwhelmed by the simplest tasks than somebody who’s daily thoughts and situations bring fear levels between 1-5.

The principal acknowledgement is to see that pressure on the body and mind from consistent stress can cause long term health problems which can stop us from living a fulfilling life.

When we’re feeling anxious or scared, our bodies release stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to help support the body to fight its demons. If this is happening repeatedly, the body will start to fatigue. It can even start taking nutrients from other parts of the body to keep up, disturbing vital functions of the body. This is why we need down time; a place where you can feel safe, let go and use that moment for your body to recuperate, rejuvenate and reset.

You may have felt the effects of prolonged stress over the last year, even if you wouldn’t call yourself the stressed-out type. This is due to the fact that fear has had to be our nature over the past year. It is a very natural mind/body response created for protection from the deadly Covid-19 virus. The situation has been layered with anxiety from the pandemic restrictions, lockdowns and online lives.

All I can say is, if you are reading this, give yourself a hug and tell yourself well done! Be grateful to be alive and thankful your body has been reacting in a healthy stressful way to protect you. But it’s time to take a break from overdrive and learn to feel safe again.

Self-awareness practices for stress

We at BNHC really want you to live life with more joy than fear. We believe that taking the time for self-awareness practices can help us all achieve a better sense of balance, harmony and happiness moving forward.

Classes such as Yin yoga are particularly good for destressing. Yin is a slow-moving yoga practice that gives time and space (especially great for yoga beginners) to expand their awareness. This type of yoga assists in releasing physical tension from the body, clearing stagnant energy and aims to calm down the nervous system.

You don’t have to have any yoga experience to do this class and it can be a suitable choice for you if you have restricted mobility*. These classes incorporate mainly seated postures that are supported by props**.  Each posture is held for up to 5 minutes to work deep into melting stiff connective tissue known as fascia (a place where unexpressed emotions can also hold themselves).

As a Yin teacher, I see the technique as a gentle movement meditation that frees the body and mind from tension and promotes flexibility and clarity.

You can come and try a class for yourself every:

Thursday with Ginny Clarke 5.30pm – 6.30pm
Sunday with Crystal Skinner 6pm – 7pm

You can book in via the BNHC timetable

Or for something more still, that zooms us (literally) into the present moment and seamlessly upgrades our awareness, I would advise trying a 30 minute relaxing meditation on Tuesdays at 12pm with Sarah Miles or Sarah Pailthorpe. It is free/by donation and abundantly destressing!

***

“I hope this article was just what you needed today and made you consider your stress triggers and stress levels with a little more love and attention.”

Crystal is a yoga teacher and writer. She is Yoga Alliance certified in Yin, Hatha, Vinyasa, Swing/aerial and myofascial release, meditation, pranayama and Kundalini. She is also a qualified NLP practitioner and journalist. She loves cats, eco-friendly focuses and tea in all forms. Full bio here.

 

*Please read our class health & safety waiver before joining a class. Contact us before joining the class with regards to any mobility/medical issues which we can share with your teacher.
**for online classes, we recommend a couple of blocks or books, a yoga strap or long towel/scarf, a pillow or bolster and a blanket. None of this is compulsory, but useful as an assistance for your practise.

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