Stress. It's a word we hear tossed around regularly, often in jest, other times with a load of seriousness looming behind it. If you've ever felt like a tightly wound spring, as if a single push could send you spiralling, or have had nights where your mind races with more enthusiasm than a cockatoo wrestling with a shiny object (yes, I'm referring to my own pet, Snowy), then you, my dear reader, have experienced stress. Stress is like the invisible backpack we carry - often heavy, sometimes light but always there. It latches on to us, making the simple joys of life seem insurmountable at times.
The Stress Response
But let's dissect it a bit. Basically, stress is our body's response to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger, whether it's real or imagined, your body's defences kick into high gear in what's known as the ‘fight or flight’ stress response. The human brain works in marvelous ways and this response is designed to protect you. Celebrity appearances on TV aside, isn’t our brain just the biggest superhero around? However, an over-triggered stress response can wreak havoc, causing a range of health problems, from headaches and sleeping disorders to more serious ones like heart diseases and mental health disorders.
The Common Culprits
What are the common culprits of stress in our modern times? Well, there are multiple reasons but topping the list are usually job and finances, followed by relationships, health issues, and day-to-day hassles. For parents like me, the stressors could range from managing work alongside childcare (Beatrice, my darling daughter, blesses me with abundant opportunities for this) to maintaining a semblance of work-life balance. There's always a presumption that living in the serene landscapes of New Zealand eases some of the stress, but trust me on this, when your 10-year-old throws a tantrum because she doesn't want "healthy" veggies for dinner, no scenic view can calm the pounding nerves.
Stress Is Not Always the Villain
But, let’s not dress stress entirely in black and make it the villain of our piece. Sometimes stress can be a good thing. It can help you meet daily challenges, motivates you to reach your goals, can aid your memory, and can act as a warning system, for instance, signalling danger and prompting us to take action.
Tackling the Stress Monster
So, the question arises: Can we defeat the big, bad stress monster and how? The answer is: Yes, we can! The stress response is more complicated than a toddler trying to explain her day at school (Again, a tip of the hat to Beatrice), but with certain tools, techniques and a dash of positivity we can control it better. We can understand our stress signals, recognize our stressors, stay healthy and make time for hobbies and interests. A personal favourite of mine, and a technique I swear by, is mindfulness meditation.
Unveiling Mindfulness Meditation
It's a beautiful dance, mindfulness and meditation: a simple, yet profound way of giving your overworked mind the soothing spa it deserves. It has been shown to reduce stress, improve concentration, enhance our creative thinking and even strengthen our immune system. There’s nothing like a dose of mindfulness to carry us through the hustle-bustle of our everyday lives. It's an incredibly versatile tool too: You can meditate on the go, while doing dishes, or during those few precious moments of silence when kids are fast asleep and Snowy has finally stopped squawking about his reflection in the mirror.
A Story of Personal Experience
Let me take out of my memory chest a fairly recent episode, related to this very topic. Sometime last year around June, I was bombarded with deadlines for articles, managing Beatrice's schoolwork, house chores, and worrying over a dear family member's health. My stress levels were sky high, my heart constantly battling a marathon, and sleep had become too much to ask for. One evening as I was fruitlessly wrestling with a particularly tenacious block of words, Snowy flew onto my laptop, knocking off a bunch of keys. In that moment of exasperation, I realized something needed to change. The next day, I decided to seriously incorporate mindfulness and meditation into my routine. Every day, no matter how packed, geared with patience I made sure to carve out a small slot for mindfulness. I won’t deny the initial hurdles- wavering concentration, impatience, and the near-impossible task of clearing my mind.
However, over the weeks, I could sense the positive shift. I was better equipped to handle stress, didn't feel as overwhelmed, and noticed a massive improvement in my sleep quality and overall wellbeing. Even in potentially stress inducing situations, it became easier to remind myself to take a deep breath and not let the stress morph into an uncontrollable snowball.
Stress might be a common aspect of our lives, but we need not let it control us. Understanding our stress, acknowledging it, and finding ways to cope helps us turn the table on stress. Whether it's through mindfulness, yoga, maintaining a journal or simply taking out time for activities you love doing - stress reduction is a journey, unique for each of us! Just as the serene beauty of Wellington can soothe your senses, tranquillity can emerge from within you, helping you pave a path towards a happier life - free of unnecessary stress, full of joy, something akin to watching Snowy making friends with his own reflection, perhaps!