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  • Writer's pictureFelicity Baker

Four Reasons Why You Should Get to Know Your Stress Response

Ignoring the warning signs that we are stressed and trying to carry on regardless might seem like a good idea, but can actually make stress worse. As stress mounts, if we don't take action to calm our bodies and recover, we can find ourselves in a vicious circle of chronic stress, which can be much harder to bounce back from. So in this blog we examine four reasons why you should get to know your stress response.


Recognising your stress response

Your own individual stress response is unique to you, moulded from your past experiences of threat and challenge and linked to your values and your insecurities. What triggers your stress response and how it manifests itself in physiological changes, emotional responses, thinking patterns and behaviour will influence your ability to cope effectively and bounce back.


Knowing your triggers, early warning signs and symptoms gives you advanced warning that you are struggling. And if caught early gives you the opportunity to choose how best to respond.


Changes in your physical sensations such as your breathing rate, muscle tension, churning stomach or elevated heart rate can be warning signs that something has triggered your stress response.


When you notice these changes, see if you can track back to what the trigger was. Perhaps it was something that someone said, or a fear of not completing a task for a deadline. Note down triggers as they happen, keep a notebook with you or jot them down on your phone.


The more aware you are of your own particular triggers for stress and the earlier you notice something is challenging, the quicker you will be able to use strategies to regulate your threat emotions, such as relaxation, mindfulness or slow rhythmic breathing. Taking these actions will calm your body and clear your thinking allowing you to find effective ways of responding.



Four reasons to get to know your stress response and coping

Coping behaviours

Stress is a useful survival tool. It evolved to protect us from harm by preparing us to fight or flee when we encounter a threat. However, in the modern day, our bodies can’t tell the difference between being chased by a dangerous animal and too many emails.


As a result, when we perceive a threat we may still try to find ways of escaping the situation as our caveman ancestors would. Nowadays rather than fleeing the situation we might find ourselves making excuses, avoiding doing difficult tasks, procrastinating or putting things off.


We might argue back or threaten others who make us feel this way.


We might try to ignore our emotions by suppressing them or avoiding thinking about them.


Or we might spend time ruminating about the situation without ever finding a solution.


These ways of coping may seem helpful in the short term but can ultimately be unhelpful having unintended consequences that can contribute to further stress.


Understanding our own ways of coping, and evaluating whether these protective strategies might have unhelpful consequences, can help us to find more adaptive and helpful strategies.


Thoughts

In modern life we encounter many situations that we perceive as threatening, which mostly (thankfully) aren’t truly dangerous to us.


However, when our brains tell our bodies that we are in danger, our bodies produce the stress hormones that prepare us for ‘fight or flight’ and we can find ourselves responding in unhelpful ways.


By noticing negative thoughts, writing them down and analysing whether they are helpful or not, you can learn to see things differently.



Four reasons to get to know your stress response and coping

Try looking at the evidence for and against your negative thoughts. Are there other ways of thinking about the situation? How would a friend see it? Are you being overly hard on yourself or only seeing the negative? Finding more balanced ways of viewing a situation can help you to feel better and act differently.


Self-care

When we are under pressure or facing difficult or challenging situations it is common for us to feel like we don’t have time for the things we usually enjoy. It feels hard to prioritise things we do for pleasure when there is so much else to do. But research tells us that we need these activities more when we are stressed than at other times.


Noticing that we are putting activities we enjoy on the back burner, or not doing the things that keep us healthy and connected with other people, are useful early warning signs that we are starting to feel under pressure.


Spending some time working out how you balance the different demands in your life, ensuring you take time to recover from work or other pressures, and do activities that you love will help to build your resilience and future proof you against stress.


Make sure that caring for yourself remains high on your agenda even when you are experiencing high levels of pressures and demands. Your resilience depends on you being able to look after yourself.


By learning to recognise your response, you can give yourself a choice about how you react and allow yourself to take control and react in a more positive way.


Get in touch to find out more about our award winning resilience training and coaching that will help you get to know your stress response and find a whole range of evidence-based strategies to bounce back.




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