So why do I recommend breathing? Or PMR, or changing your self-talk, getting more exercise or having a good laugh? How can these techniques for managing stress be effective when they can't change major circumstances like illness, social isolation or the threat of poverty?
These techniques work because they can change the way you people view their stressors. Because the experience of stress is actually an interaction between our circumstances and the way we think about our circumstances, changing the way we perceive our life's circumstances can actually change the way we experience stress. If we see our stressors as threatening and pervasive, and see no escape from them, they can feel much more 'stressful', scary and overwhelming. If we see them as temporary, 'challenging', and believe that there is a way to manage them (don't give up on stress management before even trying!), we tend to feel less stressed and overwhelmed by events in our lives.
And that's where the more simple techniques for managing stress come in, for people who are overwhelmed. A stressed brain operates from 'survival mode', which is characterized by 'tunnel vision' (failing to see all opportunities), and, often, a sense of pessimism (failing to believe that better solutions are even possible), as well as other less-than-optimal thinking styles. These thoughts shape behavior, and can lead to a sense of 'learned helplessness', where people feel too stressed to even begin to change things in their lives. Or people can feel that their problems are so big that small changes won't help.
Reversing the body's stress response via simple stress reduction techniques can, among other things, enable access to a more relaxed, optimistic style of thinking and approach to problems. This can in turn help overwhelmed people see small steps that can lead to bigger changes. Here are some examples of how this can work:
- Working to see things in a more optimistic way may help you adapt a greater sense of hope, encouraging you to talk to your boss about stressful work conditions and perhaps find more satisfaction at your job.
- Using breathing exercises can help you feel less overwhelmed in the moment and perhaps take a walk to cool off instead of reaching for a cigarette or a bag of chips. These small healthy changes can lead to greater overall health down the road.
- Taking a break to read something funny can help you feel less stressed from heavy responsibilities, and blow off steam with laughter. This can give you extra patience when you return to your responsibilities, and make you feel more 'in control' of your life, reducing your perception of stress.
- Using meditation can reverse your stress response, relax your muscles, and soothe you. This can lessen your experience of pain, making an illness less physically uncomfortable and stressful.
- Getting some extra exercise at some point in the day can relieve stress. That bit of stress relief can help you feel less overwhelmed, and perhaps inspire you to make some changes in your life that can eliminate some of the stressors you experience. That reduction of hassles in your day can relieve even more stress, and tip the balance to help you feel less overwhelmed in general. And the upward spiral continues.
These are just a few examples of how techniques for managing stress can help the overwhelmed. What one change might make a difference in your life? Try it today, and work from there!