Some people just can’t sleep; others struggle to eat. Some procrastinate; others burn out. How do you respond to stress? Ciska Thurman helps you to identify, understand and manage it
Stress is universal, but the way you experience and react to it is unique to you. What role does your personality play? Are you stress prone or stress resistant? Our personalities, as adults, are the culmination of a complex interaction of genes, formative family dynamics, social influences and your personal experiences. Throw a stressor into the mix (moving house, changing jobs, having a baby) and generally one – or a combination – of the following stress responses plays out:
Fight – also called the ‘over-reactor’
You’ll attempt to extinguish the impact of the stress, or to eliminate its cause. The fighting may be verbal or physical – you could throw things, slam doors and lash out when you get stressed. It could also mean you work harder, but less effectively, until you burn out.
Flight – also called the ‘withdrawer’
You will attempt to flee the situation. If removing yourself physically is not possible, you’ll try to flee emotionally by changing the subject or ignoring the issue. It could mean that you don’t reach out for any support, but rather disappear or withdraw into yourself to try to cope.
Tolerate – also called the ‘endurer’
You’ll never attempt to fight or flee, but rather remain in the situation with apparent calmness. However, your response is to slowly shut down and become dysfunctional – immobilised by indecision around what you should do. Others could wrongly assume that you’re not stressed, when really you need a way out.
Avoid – also called the ‘somatiser’
You won’t attempt to deal with the stress, but rather passively allow it to take a physical toll on your body – often in the shape of headaches, stomach aches, or sleeping or eating problems. Dodging the stress could involve sleeping during the day or just zoning out with junk food on the couch instead of addressing issues.
Get a grip
‘Don’t believe everything you think,’ says Megan Galloway from Megan Galloway Growth Coaching. All the stories we tell ourselves about who we are predispose stress-response behaviours to those outlined on the left. By understanding how stress affects us and then working on our relationship with stress, we can start to change these tendencies.
First, we need to identify our own typical stress behaviours and then try to redirect our default instincts in a more constructive way.
Move This is particularly useful for the over-reactors. Channel your angry energy into exercise, which releases endorphins (feel-good chemicals) in the brain and leaves you feeling fresh, not frazzled. The secretion of these endorphins then leads to feelings of euphoria, changes in appetite, better sleep and the release of sex hormones. Run, dance, shout at the waves! Even kicking against the resistance of water is a great stress-reliever. Make time for movement every day, not only when
a crisis hits.
Breathe Deep, controlled breathing is useful not only for women in labour. Typically, stressed people will take smaller, shallower breaths, using their shoulders rather than their diaphragm to move air in and out of their lungs. This method of breathing disrupts the balance of gases in the body. Breathe in deeply through your nose and then exhale through your mouth. Sigh long and hard if it feels right. Many positive physiological changes instantly take place in the body when you breathe like this (lowered blood pressure and balanced levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood, for example).
Write This is particularly useful for somatisers. Expressing your stress in writing forces you to pinpoint the pressure and identify its nature. If it’s a person, write them a letter, if it’s a problem, write about it to anyone you respect (but don’t send the letters!).Write a reply to yourself as if from that person. Being able to see your stress from a slightly more objective or external angle can be very easing. Keeping a journal is another outlet worth practising daily.
Eat From physically taming a jaw that’s clenched, to eating foods that release serotonin (a calming brain chemical), diet is incredibly effective at reducing stress. Complex carbs (they stabilise blood-sugar levels), citrus (vitamin C curbs cortisol, a stress hormone), leafy greens (magnesium fights headaches and fatigue) and nuts (for vitamin E, which bolsters the immune system) are just some food fighters. Or simply munch on carrot or celery sticks to ward off the worst of the tension!
In the heat of the moment
Megan recommends these stress-busting techniques:
Dr Amy Cuddy’s Power Pose Adopt an open, expansive body position (stand like Superman) that decreases cortisol and raises levels of testosterone. Two minutes of this optimises the brain to function well under pressure.
Dr Elisha Goldstein’s STOP Practice When you start to feel a stress reaction building, Stop, Take a breath, Observe (noticing sensations, feelings and thoughts) and only then Proceed.
Get in touch
Megan Galloway Growth Coaching: