Emotional stress — is it possible to overcome it?
We know that the mind and body are connected and that the effects of and responses to stress begin in the mind.
As a result, we need to deal with stress when it’s still in the early stage, preferably before it transfers to detrimental physical responses (aka extended fight-or-flight mode or even disease if prolonged).
In order to do this, we need to be able to recognize the signs of stress and figure out how to deal with it properly.
Practicing self-awareness and mindfulness are key when learning how to move through stress.
Knowing yourself and becoming self-aware will help you process the emotions that occur during stressful situations and prevent the build-up of stress hormones that can weaken your body.
You can learn to respond to stress in a healthy way rather than letting it overwhelm you.
Let’s take a look at several tips that will show you how to overcome emotional stress.
Pay attention to your body.
Whether you realize it or not in the moment, your body will show you signs of stress—and it’s beneficial to pay attention to them.
You may already be familiar with your unique physical responses to stress. You might have a dry mouth, sweaty palms, tense muscles, or your heart might race. You might feel butterflies in your stomach or tightness in your chest.
The moment you feel those symptoms start paying attention to your situation. What is causing your stress? How is it affecting your emotions?
Rather than resisting your feelings at that point, recognize and accept them. If you run (emotionally or physically) from stress in that moment, it will only show up again later.
Don’t try to ignore your feelings. Allow yourself to experience them—believe it or not, processing your feelings is the very thing that will help you to move through emotional stress and prevent long-term health concerns.
In fact, experiencing stress and its corresponding emotions makes you more empathetic. The emotional intelligence you build through your own life experiences can support your relationships and make you a better leader both personally and professionally.
Digest Your Emotions
Just as your system digests what you eat, your mind and body have the capability to digest your emotions.
Aside from professional counseling and therapy, there are several ways you can help yourself process and digest your emotions.
Take a moment. Remember the old “count to 10 before you respond” advice given to an angry person? The same technique can keep you from overreacting to a stressful situation. At times, emotional stress is elevated in the moment, and if you take the time to think and breathe before you react, you can remind yourself that the actual emotion only lasts 90 seconds (watch this great TED Talk if you want a better scientific understanding of emotions). The chemical release of an emotion is over in only a minute and a half. Our greatest power is in how we choose to respond to the next 90 seconds—by digesting the emotion and what it can teach us, or by putting it on a repeat loop and staying stuck to stress.
Talk it over. The first and easiest way is to simply talk to a friend or family member. Sometimes just talking through an issue can help you overcome stress and see it in a different light.
Write it out. Writing can help you digest your thoughts and feelings in a healthy way. Making note of your thoughts and emotions can show you patterns you may not otherwise recognize. Even story writing or songwriting can be therapeutic and can help you get to know yourself better.
Take a walk. Even a short 10-minute walk can reset your focus and give your mental attitude a boost. Besides giving you a bit of exercise and fresh air (think endorphins), you’ll have a bit of time to think and process the stress. When you return, you might find that it wasn’t as big of a deal as you first thought.
Reevaluate. You know that there are things in life you can control and things you can’t. When you are experiencing emotional stress, segregate the aspects of the problem into the two categories and deal with the parts you have control over. Your issue will be cut in half and you can tell yourself to let go of the parts you can’t control.
Let go. Emotional stress often shows up due to something you’re holding on to. Whether it’s something from the past you feel is unresolved, a person you need to forgive, or an issue you regret, you can’t go back. Forward is the only way to go, and it’s your choice whether you move forward with or without the turmoil of emotional stress.
Address, Don’t Neglect
Allowing yourself to feel and digest your emotions is the only way to heal and prevent further emotional stress. Once you have effectively processed stress in a situation, your mind and body will be prepared for the next time a stressful situation occurs. Not to mention that you will also be a better support to those around you who are holding on to stress. You will have trained yourself to deal with stress rather than resisting or running from it, and you’ll find yourself less affected by it each time.
Photo credit: Pablo Varela