Stress: The Not So Secret Culprit in Our Problems

Wait a minute…

I thought I was stressed because I have problems?!

Yes, we all have problems, and…

Yes, when something goes awry in our lives, we get upset. We experience some level of anxiety, anger, sadness, frustration, or any of the other negative emotions humans feel.

However, when these problems arise, and we begin to respond to them, it is important that we regulate our emotions and focus on calm. I say this with full acknowledgment that not all situations are easy to remain calm in. We will discuss the caveat to remaining calm in a moment.

Let’s start with what is stress. Then, we will see why it is important that we practice emotional regulation and how it impacts our problems.

What is stress? Stress is a normal bodily response to a stimulus, a.k.a a stressor, that may cause physical tension and evokes an emotional response.

We all experience daily stress as we navigate our worlds and continue to learn through interactions with other people. Daily stressors include working with time constraints (like arriving to work on time or catching a bus), having to make a choice (what to eat for dinner), or an unpleasant conversation with another person. Stress becomes harmful to our bodies when experiencing stress is no longer isolated to a specific event/occurs over a long period of time, is traumatizing, or too demanding of us emotionally, mentally, physically, or spiritually. It’s in this “however” that there exists the caveat to remaining calm. No one should expect calm in the midst of emotional, mental, physical, or spiritual harm. Our bodies are wired to respond with what is known as the stress response (fight, flight, or freeze) in order to help us survive. While our stress response may not always be the best response, it’s purpose is valid. In cases of extreme or chronic stress, please seek professional help from your doctor or therapist.

This post is geared towards general, daily stress; the type of stress we experience when facing time constraints and interactions with other people. In our general, daily stress, our stress response may also be activated causing us to respond inappropriately or adversely. In these instances, we begin to think “if only I did this instead,” “well that went terribly,” or any other thought related to desiring a better outcome.

Cue: emotion regulation.

Emotion regulation is our control over our emotional response or experience in any given situation. The ability to regulate our emotions can change the outcome of an event. Take, for example, the scenario below:

You and a friend are enjoying a stroll around the park, when all of a sudden, a jogger rushes by bumping into you, and causing you to drop all your belongings.

Now, you (and possibly your friend) can opt to (a) yell and/or chase the jogger angrily or (b) breathe deeply, pick up your things, and carry on with the rest of your day (lol, there is no “c”).

Which would you choose?

(a) yell and chase the jogger angrily and now you are in an altercation, police are involved, and you potentially have a criminal record or jail time? Or maybe worse, the jogger harms you and your friend over a little misunderstanding.

or…

(b) breathe deeply, pick up your things, and carry on with the rest of your day. In this instance, you give yourself a chance to calm your stress response, which dramatically reduces the tension in your body and can alter the course of your day. You also give the jogger a chance to process what has occurred, to respond calmly, and, hopefully, to apologize and help you pick up your things.

“B” is better, right?

Take this next scenario:

You are in week two of your new diet. You lost five pounds in the first week. However, you step on the scale at the end of week two, and the numbers haven’t budged. How do you respond?

(a) throw in the towel because the diet isn’t working and binge on that pack of cookies you’ve been avoiding because you’re hungry?

or

(b) take a deep breath, call a friend, personal trainer, or health coach with your grievances, receive emotional support, and decide to give it a few days before checking again (because maybe you are dealing with bloat, water weight, or something else?).

In our minds, we would all like to choose “b.” Too often, we choose “a” or some variation of it.

Did you notice in each scenario, where there’s a better outcome that doesn’t cause more chaos in ourselves or in our day, it starts with a deep breath?

That’s how we can begin to practice emotion regulation, just one deep breath. Taking a moment to breathe deeply initiates our relaxation response, the body’s process designed to counteract the stress response (it’s an automatic process but it may take some time to happen after a stressful situation). The relaxation response releases the tension in our body, lowers cortisol (which is known as a silent killer), and improves our ability to make sound choices.

Emotion regulation also looks like taking a few minutes to ourselves to calm down, writing out our emotions for processing before approaching a negative situation, or seeking support to process emotions.

As you know, my favorite approach comes through Yoga. Yoga has several branches aimed at control over the body and mind (which also has philosophy on combatting stress), and it’s how I’ve increased my ability to emotionally regulate. I am here if you want to start emotion regulation and stress relief with a Yoga practice. I would love to work with you ❤️🙏🏾

Want more information on emotion regulation? Read What is Emotion Regulation and How Do We Do It? for general information and What is Emotion Regulation? + 6 Emotional Skills and Strategies for emotion regulation techniques for adults and children.

You can also learn more about stress and stress management from The American Psychological Association. There you will find information on the effects of stress on the body, coping with trauma, dealing with uncertainty, and recovery from Covid -19.

Do you know the signs of too much stress? Check out Stress and Your Health from MedlinePlus (courtesy of the National Library of Medicine).

Wishing you all the best.

📸: John Hain

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