There is a new villain in town. Stress. Everything that happens in your life is attributed to Stress. Got a panic attack? Stress. Have fever? Stress. Piling on pounds? Stress. Skin Rashes? Stress. Dog barking too much at night? Stress.
It is the new go-to word for everyone. Google shows 700mn results when you type in stress, in less than 6 seconds!! That’s how big an issue it is in our lives.
I used to look at stress as a natural side effect of our lifestyle, until I read what that sucker does in my body. Do you know that stress changes the physiology and the biochemistry of your body? When you start feeling stressed, your primitive brain takes over and goes into the fight or flight mode. This was a response required when you were a caveman and had only two choices: either you eat the tiger or the tiger eats you. So in that condition, the body shifts all of its energy resources toward fighting off this life threat.
Your brain (or the Sympathetic Nervous System, to be precise) signals the adrenal glands to release hormones called adrenalin and cortisol. These hormones cause the heart to beat faster, respiration rate to increase, blood vessels in the arms and legs to dilate and glucose levels (sugar energy) in the bloodstream to increase to deal with the emergency.
What this also means is that all unnecessary activities of the body are shut down: your digestion, your sleep. your creative thinking, your sexual desires – much like a ship preparing for battle…all these hatches are shut down. After all you don’t need to poop, sleep or have sex when your life is in danger, right? And what are you going to do with all the creative juices? And regular pouring of stress hormones in our body causes the fat to pile up – remember you need all the fat, in case you don’t get anything to eat as you are fleeing – leading to the tyre at your belly.
The SNS response is fairly sudden in order to prepare the body to respond to an emergency situation or acute stress, short term stressors. Once the crisis is over, the body usually returns to the pre-emergency, unstressed state.
Now some amount of stress is good. It keeps us alert and helps us perform at an optimal level. However chronic stress, experiencing stressors over a prolonged period of time, can result in a long-term drain on the body. Most of the time we walk around with perennially scrunched up shoulders and body, feeling drained, under weather, losing hair, sleep, health and body shape.
Today our tigers are that assignment we have to complete, the fight we had with our partner or children, the tests we have to prepare for, facing a tough opponent in a sport, or going on stage for a performance.and sometimes we have borrowed tigers. Stress that’s not ours. Our spouse is stressed. We decide to give company. Our teen child is feeling stressed with exams…ok, let me help her out by being stressed too.
And the funny thing is we are on autopilot, we don’t realise that not all our tigers need the same level of stress.
This is where keeping a Stress Diary can be useful. Stress Diaries are important for understanding the causes of short-term stress in your life. They also give you an important insight into how you react to stress, and they help you to identify the levels of pressure at which you prefer to operate.
In addition to helping you capture and analyse the most common sources of stress in your life, Stress Diaries help you to understand:
- The causes of stress in more detail
- The levels of pressure at which you operate most effectively
- How you may be able to improve the way you manage stress
Every time you make an entry, record the following information:
- The date and time of the entry
- The most recent stressful event you experienced
- How happy you feel now, on a scale of 1 (I could kill someone now!) to 10 (Zen Mode!).
- How effectively you’re working, on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is complete ineffectiveness, and 10 is A+ effectiveness
- The fundamental cause of the stress: you, the other person, a situation ( be as honest as possible)
You could also note the symptoms you felt (for example, “butterflies in the stomach,” anger, headache, raised pulse rate, sweaty palms, and so on).
And most importantly, how well you handled the event – Did your reaction help solve the problem, or did it actually make things worse☺
So how do you analyse this diary?
- First, look at the different stresses you experienced during the time you kept your diary. Highlight the most frequent stresses, and also the ones that were most unpleasant
- Working through the stresses you’ve highlighted, look at your assessments of their underlying causes, and your appraisal of how well you handled the stressful event. Do these highlight problems that need to be fixed? If so, list these areas
- Next, look through your diary at the situations that cause you stress. List ways in which you can change these situations for the better
- Finally, look at how you felt when you were under pressure, and explore how it affected your happiness and your effectiveness. Was there a middle level of pressure at which you were happiest and performed best
This will help you understand what the most important and frequent sources of stress are in your life, and you should appreciate the levels of pressure at which you are happiest. You would also know the sort of situations that cause you stress, so that you can prepare for them and manage them well.
Use it till you start seeing the benefits. Now that you know what stress can do to you and your body, maybe it’s time to stop letting it affect you!
If, however, your lifestyle changes, or you begin to suffer from stress again, then it may be worth using the diary approach one more time. You’ll probably find that the stresses you face have changed.
We would love to hear from you. Tell us your favourite way to handle stress. Questions? We love them…bring them on and we will try to answer you in person or through our videos.
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Stress Diaries – Tool Courtesy: Mindtools