Long-term stress: 5 steps to boost recovery
Stress is an amazing thing – honest!
Experiencing stress is a natural and pretty amazing thing – a whole set of bodily reactions and responses designed to enable us to respond to perceived threats, give us the resources to do so, and ultimately keep us safe from harm.
When you know what our body does to protect us, you can’t avoid being astonished by the intricate detail and sequence of of the stress response.
It is perfect for those in-the-moment stress situations, such as responding rapidly to avoid a potential accident. It is meant to be a tool for short-term acute situations.
Yet with our modern way of living we are finding that stress is increasingly becoming persistent and long-term – and that’s a problem.
Even before we were thrown into a global pandemic, stress levels were on the rise as a result living life at a faster pace, with higher pressure, constant stimulation, and less tendency for letting off some steam in a healthy way.
Once we factor in the worry, uncertainty and trauma associated with the pandemic, I would argue that the majority of us are now firmly in the long-term stress camp. Of course, we have all been affected to different degrees, but even the most calm and collected people are reporting some level of long-term stress.
And there are very real risks associated with long-term stress, or chronic stress, as it is commonly referred to. Prolonged stress puts the body under quite a strain and, if left unchecked, can lead to fatigue, burnout, and a variety of ill-health conditions. We certainly won’t be operating at our best or enjoying life as we deserve.
What Happens When We’re Stressed?
Our body is hard-wired to kick into action when we perceive a threat. A whole bundle of chemicals are triggered or released to enable us to quickly respond to the situation, leading to specific outcomes:
- Our brain is put on high alert, constantly scanning the situation, and allowing us to execute well practiced behaviours.
- Our cardiovascular system picks up a pace pumping oxygen and nutrients to our extremities to enable us to “fight or flight”.
- Blood sugar levels are increased to provide the fast-acting energy needed to handle the situation.
- Digestion and reproduction gets deprioritised as the body’s priority is to preserve all energy for the “fight or flight”.
When you know what’s going on internally, it is much easier to understand why we can quickly end up feeling tired. The stress response consumes a lot of energy to deliver everything it does.
5 Considerations For Recovery
If you’ve been under stress for a long period of time, then it’s definitely a good moment to consider how to help yourself recover and regain the vibrancy that you may feel is long-gone. These considerations cover both sides of the stress-scales. On one side we have the amount of stress you are experiencing and on the other we have those things which help you manage stress and/or recover from it.
#1 Seize any opportunity for rest
Do you know where your fatigue is coming from so that you can respond with the right type of rest? For example, are you physically or mentally tired? Are you feeling visually over-exerted from all the screen time? Or is the amount of noise around you tiring you out?
Understanding this can help you consider what type of rest would most benefit you. Is it sleep, a Zoom free day, or just some silence, that you need? When the opportunity for rest arises, please grab it with both hands.
#2 Increase stressor awareness
Understanding specifically what causes you stress is powerful information. It enables you to more proactively avoid, reduce, manage or mitigate.
For example, are you stressed by work or rather … are you stressed by one particular person at work, or a particular part of your job that you don’t feel skilled at, or days that have back-to-back meetings? Having the specifics can empower you to feel more in control to take action.
#3 Know your signs of stress
There are some common and obvious ways that stress can show up in people – from losing our temper, getting a headache, or experiencing poor concentration – to name but a few.
Understanding and tuning-in to our own signs of stress, particularly our early warning signs, can act as a trigger for us to take immediate action to prevent the escalation of the stress response. As soon as you recognise it, it’s time to act.
#4 Prioritise what nourishes you
We’re talking here about the things that allow you to relieve and reduce the effects of stress, as well as building your resilience reserves to enable you to deal with future stressors from a stronger place.
We live in a world where we can be instructed of the ‘right’ things to do to stay healthy and resilient, but the reality is the choices are endless and you need to choose the ones that feel nourishing for you. If going for a run brings you joy and leaves you feeling energised then go for it, but if it feels like punishment every step of the way it’s probably better to look at something else.
#5 Lean on your support network
And last, but certainly not least, remember that your support network are there for you and will very likely respond to whatever you ask for. Don’t hold back in leaning on them.
Is it time to take action?
If you want to explore any of these topics further they are all explored in my book ‘Have It All Without Burning Out’ and my online course ‘The Resilience Formula’. Remember, there is a way forward and you don’t have to do it alone.
And if you’d prefer to have somebody help you achieve your objectives, then just book a call and we can have a chat about how I might be able to help.