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According to a Canada-wide survey by Morneau Shepell, approximately 33% of employees report having experienced or currently experiencing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Furthermore, 31% of workers noted they had taken vacation days due to stress (1). What if the simple solution were to approach stress from a different angle?

We must learn to navigate this omnipresent stress and its effects. Stress is inevitable. In fact, it’s necessary. Our physiological response to a stressor is our body’s survival mechanism. Our innate reflexes are instrumental, whether we run from danger or defend ourselves against it. Once we perceive a threat, our body mobilizes its resources to deal with the issue. When the risk has passed, it attempts to regain balance, known as homeostasis. Unfortunately, this second step rarely occurs because stress is mainly managed through our thoughts and persists over long periods. Without proper pauses and concrete actions to rebalance the nervous system, we become depleted. Concrete steps are needed to return to homeostasis, letting our brain know: “All is well, there’s no more danger.”

Dr. Soly Bensabat, who studied with Hans Selye, the father of stress, explains depletion due to chronic stress. “Surprised by a stressor, our body’s general resistance drops during the alarm stage, then rises during the resistance and adaptation stage, and is depleted when stress lasts too long” (2). Figure 1 shows the different stages of stress: alarm, resistance, and depletion (3).

Changing Our Perception

Perception is an essential factor in the amount of lived and felt stress. Imagine two people on a rollercoaster: one is laughing heartily, the other is paralyzed by fear. They are both on the same ride, but their reactions are distinct, based on how they view the experience. Perception is linked to genetic make-up, upbringing, and previous experiences. It’s no wonder that perception can distort how we see things. However, it is possible to approach situations from a different angle, even if it feels challenging to do so at first—one prerequisite: learning to know ourselves better.

DIFFERENT PEOPLE = DIFFERENT STRESSORS

To take action against it, we must first know what causes us stress. Sonia Lupien, director of the Centre for Studies on Human Stress, suggests that: « a situation is stressful only if you interpret it that way. You must feel like you are facing something Novel or Unpredictable, that there is a threat to your ego, or that you’ve lost your sense of control in the situation.” (4)

Name all the elements that correspond to these criteria. From this list, find a few items you can act on first.

Name all the elements that correspond to these criteria. From this list, find a few items you can act on first.

Regaining Control 

Unfortunately, elevated or chronic stress won’t magically disappear. If the solution is to take small and occasional steps to remedy stress, the results will also be sporadic. The answer lies instead in forming practical and straightforward lifestyle habits that support the body’s recovery. This implies that we each need to reflect on strategies to better manage our stress on a day-to-day basis. One person = one approach. There are different methods and tools for each of us. Generally, regularity is more important than duration, and a few minutes a day are sufficient. Breath is a powerful stress management tool that is available 24 hours a day. On top of acting on our nervous system, breath helps us clear our thoughts and see our challenges differently. Without limiting yourself, also consider other methods: spending time in silence, reading a good book, practicing your favourite sport or hobby, singing, laughing. 

Coach’s tip:  To prevent stress from taking over, you must know your stressors and how you react to them. Since our perception hugely impacts our stress levels, modifying our outlook on a situation can be very useful. Imagine a positive outlook as wearing rose-coloured glasses and a negative outlook as wearing dark-coloured ones. When a problem seems particularly dark, take a step back and look at it from another perspective. Attempt to see the positive side of things, the rose-coloured side. If needed, ask someone you trust to give you their opinion. Though changing your glasses might not shelter you from difficulty, it can be a helpful exercise. Also, be mindful of the language you use: avoid sabotaging and diminishing your efforts. Become your own best friend, become self-encouraging and thank yourself. 

Yoga Therapist’s tip: Think of your stress levels like a thermometer with a 0 to 10 scale. The intensity fluctuates throughout the day. Do you wake in the morning already feeling your stress at an 8 or a 9? Or perhaps you begin your day pretty calmly, but as soon as you start work, you hit a 10? In the evening, does this stress diminish, or does it increase and keep you from sleeping? Observe its rhythm over a few days to better understand your cycles. Then, regularly incorporate a few minutes of deep, conscious breathing that will help balance your stress thermometer instead of swinging between extremes. Cardiac Coherence is a simple tool that works well for many of my clients. Find a comfortable seated or standing position and begin. Inhale for five seconds, letting your belly expand, then exhale for five seconds. Do this for five minutes. You can also use this guided practice. Test it out for 21 days and see if your perception of stress changes. 

 

Bibliographic References 

  1. http://quebec.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/01/27/le-tiers-des-travailleurs-canadiens-souffrent-ou-auraient-souffert-danxiete-ou-de-depression_n_6557030.html
  2. http://image.slidesharecdn.com/reconnaitreetgrerlestressautravail-141211051934-conversion-gate02/95/reconnaitre-et-grer-le-stress-au-travail-9-638.jpg?cb=1418275333
  3. Patrick Vesin et Locana Sansregret (2014), Yoga solution antistress, Éditions Quintessence
  4. http://www.stresshumain.ca/le-stress/dejouer-le-stress/principes-de-la-gestion-du-stress.html

Par: Julie Banville & Jacinthe Ayotte, Coach professionnelle

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