This article in two sentences:

This article looks at what stress reflects about your needs and values. It also looks at small changes you can make immediately to decrease stress.

If you’re stressed, you’re not alone

Stress is common. According to the APA, one-third of Americans are living with extreme stress. A study done by Forth shows that, in the U.K, 85% of the population experience stress regularly with 39% of adults saying they feel too stressed in their daily lives.

Our modern lives are busy with rushed commutes, deadlines, responsibilities and the need to care about those we love.

Stress has become such a part of our lives that over a third of people in the U.K report feeling stressed for at least one full day each week.

With this in mind, let’s look at how to calm stress and chill out…

There’s more to managing stress than you’d think

Stress can be caused by just about every aspect of our lives and it can affect almost every aspect of our lives. Most stress isn’t caused by short-term incidents like a near miss accident while driving. Most stress is in fact long-term stress, which can have dire effects in our life.

Even infrequent spikes of stress can halt immune system function and lead to bouts of minor illness. In more extreme cases it can lead to life-threatening conditions. Long-term stress can lead to mental health problems like depression, anxiety and even suicidal ideas. It can develop into eating disorders and escapist, addictive behaviours as well as erectile dysfunction in men and menstrual problems in women. It can lead to heart problems later in life as well as digestive issues daily. And that’s the tip of the iceberg. Needless to say, we’d all be better off without stress.

Stress has two faces

But is all stress a bad thing?

The term ‘eustress’ was coined by the endocrinologist Hans Selye to mean ‘good stress’. But how can stress be good? To understand eustress we have to define stress further…

Stress can be more accurately called distress. According to Medicinenet, in a medical or biological context, stress is a physical, mental or emotional factor that can cause bodily or mental tension. In terms of distress, we could see stress as something that has primarily or solely negative effects on the individual experiencing it.

Eustress, on the other hand, can be beneficial. Consider the way you feel when you’re in playful competition with someone, are out for a run or are presented with a challenge while doing something you enjoy. That’s eustress. The difference between distress and eustress comes down to how the cause of stress is perceived. If you’re faced with something that feels dangerous or frustrating, you’re more likely to feel distressed. If you’re faced with something you are confident you can overcome, and have the tools to do so, you’re more likely to feel eustress(ed).

Here’s why the quick fixes just don’t work

There’s a reason this article isn’t “10 Quick Tips to Relieve Stress Today”. Everyone’s stress is different and to relieve stress you have to understand what’s causing it for you.

The difference between distress and eustress is how it is perceived. For one person, name-calling may be a fun bit of banter but for someone else it may be deeply hurtful. Equally, for one person, an imminent deadline in the workplace may be an encouragement to work faster and smarter while for the next it could leave them drained of creativity and in quite a panic.

Everybody is different and understanding your own personal relationship with the challenges in your life is key to reducing distress. The secret is using the stressful experiences to make sense of what is most important to you.

Making sense of your stress

Grab yourself a pen and some paper.

Now write down the three things in your life that cause you the most stress. They could be big or small, sporadic or overarching. It might be your work, your primary relationships or your friendships. Whatever they are, write down the three things in your life that cause you the most stress. You get points for specificity here. That will help in a minute…

Now that you’ve got the three things written down, ask yourself what those things tell you about yourself. If you find that one of your main causes of stress is a work colleague speaking rudely to you then it’s clear that you value politeness or perhaps respectfulness. If you find yourself wound up that, while you do your utmost to arrive to meetings and appointments on time, others often arrive late, it’s probable that you are someone who values your time and wants it spent well.

Your values always show up

These three things are most likely some of your top values. They are important to you and they are defining aspects of your character.

Consider how these three values already show up in your life. Our values tend to show up in how we treat others and how we allow ourselves to be treat by others. Often, they can also show up in the choices we make for ourselves. If respect is important to you, you most likely make an effort to be polite and pay special attention to people’s boundaries. If you want others to feel considered, you might make an extra effort to be on time to meetings or social gatherings.

Living out of integrity with your values is a primary cause of stress for people the world over

Consider where in your life you’re not living in integrity with these three values. Living out of integrity with our values tends to manifest as frustration, dissatisfaction and a lower opinion of ourselves. These can be useful signposts to where in your life you might be living out of integrity with your values. Working in a call centre isn’t ideal for people who hold respect as one of their highest values. It’s an environment where people are rude multiple times a day. A more extreme example may be that working as a bailiff is troublesome for someone who deeply cares about others as part of the job is disrespecting other people’s boundaries.

Living in integrity with your values

Understanding and considering your values is a key part of decreasing stress. Now that you’re clear on what these values are, you can begin to bring them into your life with greater awareness. To begin, mark down three changes you can make, starting today, that will mean living in line with your three values.

If respect is one of your top values and you know that, in certain encounters in your life, that value is challenged, a good first step may be seeking ways to establish boundaries with these people. In this instance, a good start would be calling out what you feel is disrespectful and calmly asking the person to speak to you in a way you prefer.

The values we’ve examined here are just a few of many that all of us have. In the Meaning and Purpose section of Questly, we take a look at how meaning and direction are inherently linked to stress and how getting clear on your top seven values goes a long way to decreasing and managing the stressful situations in your life. Click here to check out Questly

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