Stress is not just a thought or a feeling. It can actually make you unhealthy, releasing stress hormones (like adrenaline and cortisol), altering your appetite, increasing your heart rate, and other things. That's why doctors tell us to avoid it. But life is stressful, so exactly how are we supposed to accomplish that?
Once the stress response is triggered, your body has to deal with it. It has to do what's necessary to re-regulate your breathing and heart rate, to re-absorb the stress hormones, to restore you to the set point, and all of that takes time. When your body is working on taking care of something else like that, it's essentially distracted by that task. So, when you're stressed, you're more likely to become ill or injured and to experience other problems. You continue living your life, but your body is preoccupied by this clean-up task. It's kind of like sending your car off without a driver in it.
Here's a quick, three-step process to help you deal with and mitigate stressful situations:
1. Acknowledge that the event and your response to it are two separate things. Think about that consciously. The giant stack of work someone just added to your in-box is one thing, and the way you're feeling about it is something else. One doesn't necessitate the other.
2. Give that feeling a name. Is it anger? Hurt? Betrayal? In his book titled, The Upward Spiral, Alex Korb, Ph.D., references an fMRI study in which participants looked at pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. Each participant's amygdala took on the emotions of the person in the picture. But when they gave the emotion a name, it reduced the amygdala activity. Just becoming consciously aware of what the emotion is reduces its impact on the person experiencing it.
3. Remind yourself that you have a choice. Place the palm of your hand on the crown of your head, and take three long, slow, deep breaths. Is the situation really as bad as it felt initially? Perhaps it's something you can begin, and it will turn out to be easier than you thought. Remember other times when you've survived situations like this one. Remind yourself of your good points.
However you decide to progress, doing so without the stress is always a healthier choice, both physically and emotionally.