Why Stress is Impacted by Your Circumstances + How to Reframe

Wow, what a crazy time we have been living in for the past week. Most Americans are living a different life today than two weeks ago because of COVID19. The pandemic and social distancing have added stress to most of our lives. 

How to Identify Stress in Any Situation

Stress presents itself in many different ways and the ability to cope with stress appropriately varies between individuals. Stress is defined as any event in which environmental demands, internal demands or both exceed the body’s adaptive responses.

Home-schooling children while balancing work, facing the loss of jobs and cutbacks plus the uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring can leave us feeling overwhelmed and anxious. When stress becomes out of control, your body’s ability to fight off disease or even to function optimally drastically decreases.

4 Key Drivers That Influence Your Stress Level

What can you start to do today to bring balance back into your life? Let’s look briefly at what drives our stress response and then we will look at what you can do to combat stress. Four key drivers that will influence your response to stress are below.

  1. The novelty of the event. Have you encountered this type of stress before and successfully managed it or is it stress you have never experienced? For example,  I think back to my stress response when I was a new nurse caring for ill patients compared to my response after working Intensive care for 10 years. 
  2. The unpredictable nature of the event. You can handle stress better if you know what to expect. Feeling prepared increases your coping skills.
  3. A perceived threat to your body or ego. Probably a pretty significant driver right?
  4. A sense of loss of control. Let’s face it, not many of us thrive when we feel we have no control over an event or situation.

When I looked at these 4 factors, this pandemic fits every one of these factors.

  1. I don’t think many of us were alive during the last pandemic making this new stress to us.
  2.  We don’t know when this whole thing will end, and life will go back to normal. 
  3. It certainly is a threat to your body and health.
  4. While you have control over your behavior, you don’t have control over others. Added to that the loss of activities that we have always had before like eating out, going to the gym, being able to see a movie or sporting event. These activities are stress-reducing for most people.

It’s no wonder, you might be feeling out of sorts, not sleeping well, not remembering what day it is and find yourself feeling more pressure now than ever.

How to Use Reframing to Change Your Perception of Stressful Events

What can we do to improve our response?  First, let’s clarify that there are events that happen that are catastrophic like the sudden death of a loved one that you really can’t initially take control of how you feel. These events happen and take time to work through and that a different discussion altogether. I specifically what to address acute stresses and their responses as mentioned above.

One of the first things we can do to improve our initial response is a technique called reframing.  The skill of reframing or changing your perception of the event can influence how you respond. For example, instead of seeing this pandemic confining you to home, think of how many times in the past you said I wish I had more time to read, finish a project or improve my cooking skills. Well, you suddenly do have more time.

Having to home school your kids is a great way to spend more time with them. Reframing will give you a sense of control over how you respond to stressful events. As humans, we naturally view the negative in life as a survival skill. We have to purposefully look for the positive in stressful events.  

Here are a few skills that you can use to start reframing and change your perception of negative events:

  1. Question your thoughts. See thoughts as what they are…just thoughts.  Ask are they true and accurate or perception or belief? What “story” are you telling yourself?
  2. Embrace a threat as a challenge. Ask yourself is there an opportunity for me to grow through this event and come out better on the other side?  What can I learn from this?
  3. Increase your “sense” of control. By this I mean, focus on what you can influence, be creative and ask for help if you need it. Let go of what is out of your control.
  4. This is my favorite! Do the Rocking Chair Test: Imagine yourself at 100 years rocking on your front porch while reflecting on your life. Will this event even matter, or better yet will you even remember it? Now, I am pretty sure that you will remember this pandemic but what how did you respond to it? Hopefully, you became better at something, learn a new skill or improve your relationships. 

All of these depend greatly on your ability to stay mindful and that is why practicing mindfulness is so important! You must stay present in stressful situations.  You can’t let stress send your mind into a spiral pattern of anxious thoughts, fears and worrying about what the future holds.

One thing you can easily do is pay close attention to your breathing when you are feeling intense emotions and SLOW down. Pause—deep breath and focus on the here and now. This will allow you to a quick pause to think clearly to be able to start reframing the situation and take control of your response to the stressful event. 

Let’s take a deep BREATH and know this will pass. Let’s choose how we are going to respond and helps others to respond better too!

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