News Our greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose a positive thought over a negative one

Cat Dowd discusses stress and tips for dealing with negative thinking.

Features, News

April 26, 2024

Stress

Stress is something that we all experience in varying degrees.  The origins of stress come from our body’s reaction to danger.  It is a physiological condition that occurs when we are in the presence of something mentally or physically frightening or overwhelming.  This is commonly referred to as ‘fight or flight’ but did you know evolutionary cognitive development has also given us ‘freezing’, ‘fawning’ and ‘flopping’?

  • Freezing can manifest as an immobile hypnotic reaction where our minds stop functioning.  A common example of this is stage fright i.e. not being able to speak in front of an audience.
  • Fawning is often played out by a need to please so you may experience the need to be overly helpful and express the need for ‘safety’ or feeling ‘safe’.
  • Flopping is when someone will become physically and mentally unresponsive and become so overwhelmed by stress they actually collapse. 

All of these experiences are triggered by the amygdala which is a cluster of cells located in the middle of the brain.  When we start to get stressed the amygdala will release a chemical called ‘cortisol’ which will be carried via neurotransmitters to our adrenal glands.  The glands will then release a powerful hit of adrenalin which will then trigger our bodies to get ready to perform at a level we don’t naturally perform at.  These feelings can be very unpleasant and can extend into ‘panic attacks’.

So why do we still experience stress?  How has evolution not engineered this out of our genetic makeup?  Is all stress bad?

Have you ever run for a bus or train in fear of being late for something important or worked at an extreme level to meet a deadline and wondered, afterwards, how you did it?  The reason we still feel stress is because it can be a great motivator.  The issue isn’t the feelings of stress, it is our ability to manage the levels and not letting it get out of control. Teaching ourselves to manage our stress is a vital tool in combating poor mental health.  

 

Help with managing stress

If you are feeling stressed don’t avoid the feeling, it’s better to accept it and face into it.   

Here are three simple steps to try when the feelings of stress are affecting your day to day lives:

Step 1: Realise when it is causing you a problem. Try to make the connection between the feelings and the pressures you are currently faced with. Look out for physical warnings such as tense muscles, over-tiredness and headaches or migraines

Step 2: Identify the causes. Try to identify the underlying causes. Sort the possible solutions for your stress into three categories:

  • those with a practical solution
  • those that resolve given time and
  • those you can’t do anything about

Step 3: Review your lifestyle. Could you be taking on too much? Are there things you are doing which could be handed over to someone else? 

Getting stressed about situations will not give you resilience to cope, it can make you overwhelmed, exhausted and physically unwell an none of these traits will help you solve problems.

Our greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose a positive thought over a negative one.  Practice, every single day, acknowledging negative thoughts and then replacing them with more positive thoughts.  It doesn’t come naturally, it comes with consistency and practice.

For further support and guidance, please take the time to have a look at the following advice from the NHS on stress busting techniques: Ten Stress Busters

By Cat Dowd, Head of People & Culture at PRP