There are different kinds of stress, and not all stress is negative. Stress is important for survival, and for any kind of change, growth or development.
Stress sharpens our senses in new situations. This helps identify risks, and to process new information quickly. It’s easier to discover and learn new things when we’re alert than when we are relaxed . This is what is called “positive stress”. After positive stress, relaxation is especially enjoyable. For example, the pleasant exhaustion we feel after mastering a physical challenge.
IT’S NOT JUST IN OUR HEADS
Stress becomes negative when we have to deal with it too quickly, or for too long. This can overload our nervous system’s natural ability to keep a healthy balance between activation and recovery. While our bodies do their best to manage stress-overload, this consumes a lot of energy and can have a negative impact on our physical and mental wellbeing. It also affects how well or badly we are able to interact with others. Getting enough sleep, physical activity, eating well and enjoying time with family and friends can help our bodies recharge.
When our nervous system is overloaded for too long, our body, mind and soul start to send “distress signals”. These differ from person to person. Stress reactions are not a sign of weakness. They are a natural response to an abnormal situation.
Here are some examples for distress signals:
In our bodies, for example constant tension, sleeping problems, digestive problems and frequent headaches.
In our social lives, for example withdrawing from friends and family, “clinging” or getting into lots of arguments or fights.
In our feelings, for example feeling “empty” or “heavy-hearted”, angry outbursts or constant irritability.
In our thoughts, for example “thinking too much”, having unpleasant thoughts that keep popping up, or angry thoughts about others or ourselves.
FIND YOUR BALANCE
Finding a balance between activation and recovery isn’t always about relaxation. Physical activity can actually help your nervous system get back into “recovery mode”. For example, dancing to your favorite fast song, strength training or anything else that gets your heart rate up – preferably something you enjoy!
Here are some typical signs of “recovery mode”
Tingling in hands or feet
Sighing or deeper breathing
Watering eyes, or tears
Yawning (it’s not necessarily a sign of boredom when people yawn; it can also mean that they feel safe and relaxed!)
If you are worried because you are experiencing many signs of stress-overload in yourself or others, it’s important to seek help. With friends, with family, and of course with professionals. There are many ways to recover from stress overload and feel better again.