Stress can affect any of us, at any point in our life. We still need to understand so much about stress: what causes it, the effects it has on people, why it affects some more than others. If we take the same stressful situation and ask 100 people to explain how that situation makes them feel, we would probably hear 100 different types of reactions. For example, some people may find that situation as worrying, while others may find it exciting. Stress can be either positive or negative. Positive stress can be the euphoric feeling before a big event like a wedding or a sports competition, and it makes us perform at our optimum level. Negative stress is likely to become chronic and makes us feel anxious, exhausted and drained. Negative stress is usually associated with pressures at work or family problems.
Stress is also a very fluid concept: sometimes it can affect only our mind, but at times it can cause physical symptoms like headaches and muscle tension. There are many definitions of stress: for example, the American College of Sports Medicine defines stress as a disruption of the body’s natural state of harmony in response to a real or perceived threat. The way people react to the same factors that can contribute to stress can depend on whether they feel they are in control of the situation or not. For example, anxiety over the results of medical tests can often be perceived as something we cannot control.
There is no specific cure for stress, and we also need to bear in mind that what works for one person may not work for someone else.
Can You Prevent Stress?
Probably the only bullet-proof way to prevent stress is to avoid potentially stressful situations, however, this is not a realistic solution. Even if we try and reduce causes of stress, there will always be some factors, for example, the general economy, we don’t have any direct control on. The one thing we can control, however, is the way we respond to stress. If we have a range of stress management tools we can draw from in any situation, we will feel more equipped to deal with what life throws at us.
Chronic stress can lower the body’s own immune system, which then starts to become weaker and more prone to illness. Chronic stress is also linked to a variety of issues, from sleep deprivation to cardio-vascular disorders (American Psychological Association). Premature ageing, cognitive impairment (for example, temporary memory loss or difficulty concentrating) and even depression are also associated with chronic stress. Stress affects the area of the brain called the cerebellum, which is responsible for movement, coordination, memory and learning. When we are stressed, we tend to find it more difficult to memorise information and retain it.
Studies found that, for example, practising yoga regularly every week is linked to an increase in well-being and a reduction in stress levels (Alternative Therapy Health Medicine 2011).
To be able to combat or even prevent stress, we need to build some coping mechanisms that we can use at any point in our life when we feel overwhelmed.
The Power of Presence
In yoga, the practice teaches us to become aware of the present moment. Meditation also works in raising our awareness and become more grounded, focusing on the here and now.
If you are looking for a way to feel less stressed and more connected to the present moment, you can also try Sophrology. Unlike yoga, you don’t need to have a certain physical ability or aptitude. Sophrology is a dynamic relaxation, stress management and personal development technique. Sophrology only requires a few minutes a day when you can sit down quietly and without interruptions. You don’t need special equipment or special clothing, so you can do it in your lunch break at work, for example, or even on the train if it’s not too noisy.
Being present means focusing exclusively on the here and now instead of worrying about the future, or reminiscing about the past. You can achieve this through some simple breathing exercises and gentle movement. As you concentrate on your breathing, on your body and on your sensations, your mind doesn’t have the opportunity to race from one thought to the next. You learn to positively engage with the mind-body connection to help you reach a nice state of calm.
Sophrology teaches us to listen to the cues coming from our body: is our body feeling tense? Are any areas of our body colder or warmer? A good starting point is to do an exercise called the Clearing Breath: in a state of relaxation, sitting, we breathe in, then, with each breath out, we focus on one specific part of our body, from our head down to our toes, making a conscious decision to acknowledge the tension in it and release it, so it can further relax. It is like taking control of what we feel, and clear tensions that the body has accumulated. In Sophrology, we strengthen that body-mind connection by learning to concentrate on positive sensations once we have released the tensions. Our body and our mind are full of possibilities and resources: we only need to learn how to connect with them. When we start to give space to positive sensations, positive thoughts and images and connect with the body with simple moves, we are able to connect to our consciousness, which is like a reservoir of energy and potential. This way, not only we can start to choose what we want to concentrate on in the present moment, learning to free ourselves from old behaviours and unhelpful reactions to stress, but we can make the space in our mind to positively prepare for future events so we can fully embrace them.
The best way to learn these techniques and more is to arrange a one-to-one session with a qualified Sophrology practitioner. You can book a consultation by emailing [email protected]. You can also find Sophrology exercises, including 10 minutes guided practices, in the book The Life-Changing Power of Sophrology, available on Amazon.