Building Resilience: How to Overcome Stress?

May 20, 20244 min
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Stress such an overused word. Isn’t it?

Go to a party on Sunday night; everybody is stressed about the tragic Mondays! 🙁

Tell your boss you are stressed, and they will tell you how they are burdened by their boss.

Talk to your father about stress; surely enough, he will tell you how he crossed rivers and walked for kilometers to reach school in his days - your life is easy, and you are making up for being “stressed”!

Chakkar kya boss, yeh stress ka? [Translation: What is this stress all about?]

Let’s delve into the basics of stress together! Come along

Stress is a series of bodily reactions that occur when we are faced with a challenging task, a threatening situation, or a demand from life. Hans Selye, the father of modern stress research, pioneered that “under chronic stress, human bodies experience a state of shock, alarm, and eventual exhaustion.” At times, the lived experiences of discrimination and poverty can significantly amplify life's challenges, contributing to heightened stress levels.

[Fun Fact: Prior to Selye's work, stress was primarily viewed as a vague feeling. Selye's groundbreaking insight was to identify stress as a physiological response involving specific hormonal changes, particularly the release of cortisol and adrenaline.]

Examples of stressful situations include:


● Conflict with loved ones
● Comparing ourselves to people on social media
● Observing an accident or a natural calamity
● Feeling unhappy at your job
● Stuck in the middle of a forest with a tiger behind your life? (At least this was stressful for our ancestors)

Have you ever wondered how a tiger or a deer deal with stress? Yes, the animals, you read that right. Unlike humans, animals go through the cycle of life & death daily. Every waking hour, they are petrified about their existence.

So, how do they overcome stress? How does a deer casually eat grass in the middle of a forest, knowing that it can die from an attack at any moment?

Dr Peter Levine, a trauma specialist, first highlighted the animal vs. human way of dealing with traumatic or stressful events. Our bodies are designed to produce chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline to deal with stressful situations, and at the same time, our own bodies are also designed to release the same accumulated stress. Animals in the wild often discharge stress by physically shaking after a stressful event. This helps them complete the stress response cycle and
return to a state of calm. Humans, on the other hand, may suppress these physical responses due to societal norms or personal inhibitions.

In a stressful situation, our body activates the sympathetic nervous system, triggering a range of responses such as a heightened heartbeat, paced breathing, sweating, dryness of the mouth, tightening of jaws, and sometimes the need to use the washroom repeatedly. These physiological changes are the body's way of accumulating energy to confront a stressful situation. Conversely, once the stressor diminishes, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, restoring balance and
promoting a sense of calmness.

Let’s learn how to activate this in-built parasympathetic nervous system to build resilience from how to manage stress.

Count 4-7-8


Feeling Confused?

Mindfulness and deep breathing are common ways of building resilience. But have you wondered why? When we experience stress, our breathing becomes faster to fight the situation we are dealing with, and to help the body reduce the impact of stress, we need to slow down. As you inhale a breath, begin counting ...1...2...3...4, hold the breath in your mouth until 7 counts, and exhale for 8 counts. The longer you exhale, the less stress you experience. As you begin breathing deeply, the parasympathetic system sends signals to the brain to relax and produce a sense of calmness.

Shake it off
Have you ever been to a music concert? Humming along and swaying your body to your favourite tunes as the musician plays the guitar.

Shaking it off is an exercise where we create our rock concert every time we are stressed. Begin by standing on a stable surface and shaking each leg, then move your arms up and down as you shake your body, and eventually move your head – just like you are at a concert. Play your favourite music in the background if you like. Continue to do this for 5 minutes as you notice your body coming to a calm state.

Therapy


At times, making sense of a stressful situation alone is difficult. Asking for help is a courageous step. Discover qualified therapists at Mave Health, where finding the right mental health professional is made easy. At Mave Health, every therapist has a mini-website that helps you understand their unique approach and choose what’s best for you. Therapy can be beneficial in dealing with stress by providing individuals with effective coping strategies and offering a supportive space for exploring the underlying causes of stress.

Embrace stress as a natural part of life, leverage evidence-based techniques like deep breathing and physical release to activate the body's resilience, and consider seeking therapy. Our bodies need a surge of chemicals to function optimally. However, it becomes a problem when our bodies have to deal with stress 24/7. Focusing on everyday essentials such as good quality sleep, exercising 4 times a week, drinking 2-3 liters of water, and taking in sunlight or natural light first
thing in the morning also builds resilience, helping our bodies bounce back from stress quickly.

References:


Payne P, Levine PA, Crane-Godreau MA. Somatic experiencing: using interoception and
proprioception as core elements of trauma therapy. Front Psychol. 2015 Feb 4;6:93. doi:
10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00093. Erratum in: Front Psychol. 2015;6:423. PMID: 25699005; PMCID:
PMC4316402.
Rothman, Lily (2016, March 3). How Hans Selye invented the science of stress. TIME.
https://time.com/4243311/hans-selye-stress/

Author's Profile picture
Anvita Sethi
Psychologist | Trauma Informed Therapist | M.Sc. Clinical Psychology