It’s International Stress Awareness Week 2020

This week has been International Stress Awareness Week, so let’s think about your stress levels, how you understand them, and what you can do about them.

Stress is what happens when the demands of a situation outstrip our ability to cope with it.

Maybe that sounds obvious…? But to me it is one of the most helpful definitions I’ve read. That’s because it turns stress from a vague, abstract, overwhelming feeling to a more concrete reality.

It helps to acknowledge what is happening: This situation is asking a lot of me, and I don’t feel like I have the resources to cope with it.

It then becomes a question of what I can do to:

  • decrease or share the load of the demands
  • better resource myself to cope with them

What’s your biggest stressor at the moment?

Is there something you can do to decrease the demands on you (either from this stressor or overall)?

Could you share the load (again of this or of other things)?

Who could you lean on?

Now let’s think about how we resource ourselves to cope with stress.

When Stress Becomes Overwhelm and Burnout

Stress can easily lead to overwhelm and burnout.

Sometimes this happens when we are forced by a situation to repeatedly overlook our limitations and behave in superhuman ways. (Think 2020 school and nursery closures.)

What’s more common is us getting stressed, overwhelmed, and ultimately burnt out through our getting into a habit of disregarding those limitations.

Maybe we think of them as an inconvenience. (It does feel pretty inconvenient sometimes, being only human!)

And/or maybe we’re just not aware of how vital it is that we pay attention to that stressed feeling, take a step back, and recharge.

How Do You Recharge?

When we feel stressed or overwhelmed, we often say things like “I need a holiday!” – and it’s true, a holiday, a weekend away, or even an afternoon’s break from our usual demands can be really replenishing, and it’s vital that we make time for ourselves in this way.

However, what is often missing for those who find themselves getting burnt out is the small, everyday moments of relief from the pressures of our lives. 

I’ve never actually seen Twin Peaks, but a few years ago a client told me about an iconic moment from the series. Here’s the quote:

“Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it, don’t wait for it, just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot, black coffee.”

That’s the mindset of a person who refuses to let stress take over their lives.

It’s up to each of us to let that present happen for ourselves every day.

And if it’s difficult for you to do that – perhaps because you are in the phase of life where you’re meeting the endless demands of small children – that’s when you need it all the more.

If you haven’t found a way to treat yourself by the time your partner gets home, or your kids are in bed – that’s your moment then. Go for a walk around the block, listen to a podcast, do a meditation, read a book, finish a drink while it’s still hot… you get the idea.

If you’re not living like this, it’s might well be that on some level you don’t feel like you’re worthy of it. You are. But you might have to start living like it before you start to believe it. 

Stress and Your Relationships

How we cope with stress is one of the key determinants of the long-term health of our closest relationships.

As we head into winter, and go back into Lockdown here in England, you might well be feeling an acute need for International Stress Awareness Week.

The better you understand your own and your partner’s stress responses, and how they feed into each other, the better you’ll be able to weather the storms of the hard times you go through together.

You can read more about the impact of stress on your relationship here. And if you want to know how to stop your stress and your partner’s from causing issues in your relationship, check out my online course Love In Lockdown here.

Completing The Stress Response Cycle

So stress is bad for you and it’s bad for your relationships. But what can you do about it?

We can look for ways to share the load. We can take more time for ourselves. And we can treat ourselves as just as deserving of gifts as we truly are.

But ultimately, stress happens. We get worried, anxious, and afraid, which triggers our flight response.

We get irritated, annoyed, frustrated, angry, and rageful, which triggers our fight response. 

And we get overwhelmed, flooded, despairing, and depressed, which triggers our freeze response.

These are all evolutionarily advantageous responses. But most of our stressors these days are not acute ones (like predators), but the chronic, lower intensity, longer duration stressors caused by modern life.

The trouble is, our systems can’t tell the difference. 

And the good news is, our systems can’t tell the difference – so the solutions are the same.

When our ancestors were threatened by predators, they ran. And when they were lucky enough to make it home into the arms of their communities, they felt relief, gratitude, and love for their families and friends.

That’s the stress response cycle: risk > action > safety.

Recovering From Stress In 2020

In order to discharge stress from our bodies, we need to complete that cycle.

As Emily Nagoski describes,

“Physical activity is the single most efficient strategy for completing the stress response cycle and recalibrating your central nervous system into a calm state.”

Other activities that complete the stress response cycle include sleep, sharing affection, any meditation including mindfulness, yoga, tai chi, progressive muscle relaxation, crying, making art, and journaling.

Ask yourself this: what makes me feel safe? Then do more of those things.

This is why regular early nights are so good for your wellbeing – you get more rest, more feelings of comfort and safety, and – if you can convince your partner to come too – more connection too.

Remember Stephen Porges’ words,

“Safety isn’t the absence of threat but the presence of connection.”

If you want to understand how you can get more of those feelings of safety and connection in your relationship, check out Love In Lockdown today.

Get In Touch

This International Stress Awareness Week, pay attention to your stress response and what it’s telling you about what you need, whether it’s to complete the stress response cycle, or to take some time to invest in your relationship.

If you would like to join my waiting list for counselling (on your own or with a partner), or book a relationships after kids coaching call, you can contact me here, or hit reply if you’re reading this on email.

You can sign up for Love In Lockdown here, and subscribe to the mailing list here.