According to local stress expert Richard Sutton, stress can give you superpowers - if you know how to control it. Rather than letting stress get the better of you, Sutton says it's possible to harness the power of stress and use it to your advantage. Ever noticed how, in a high-intensity situation, you're able to focus better, manage pain, and become pumped with the strength and energy you need to handle those few moments? What if we could turn on these 'superpowers' when we needed them? And, without letting stress take over, learn to harness it and thrive. This year has undoubtedly tipped the regular stress scales thanks to COVID-19. So, why not take the opportunity to learn more about stress and how to master it? These 5 steps should help...
5 steps to help you conquer stress
Who is Richard Sutton?
Sutton is one of SA's top local stress experts. He's an experienced health and performance consultant and has worked with industry leaders, top athletes and Olympic teams to help them manage stress and adapt to high-intensity situations. In 2019, he released a book titled The Stress Code: From Surviving to Thriving, where he looks at how stress can impact our overall health as well as our genetics. A few years ago, the World Health Organisation classified stress as 'the health epidemic of the 21st century'. And Sutton strives to respond to this epidemic and provide solutions to help combat the global stress crisis.
What are the pro's and cons of stress?
While stress may feel pretty miserable and overwhelming, there are some positive aspects to that familiar anxiety. In his book, Sutton mentions some of the ways stress has the ability to give us superpowers - such as increase our tolerance for pain and generate a boost of energy. The fear centre in our brains is triggered when we're under stress, resulting in a release of adrenaline and the stress hormone, cortisol. Sutton believes stress gives us the ability to shape our reality. 'Everything is better when we are in this state, believe it or not,' he says. 'But it comes at a cost'. The 'con' comes in if we're in a permanent state of stress.
Of course, there are negative side-effects to stress, too. According to Sutton, the stress system isn't designed to be active all the time. It works best if it's only 'turned on' at specific times in order to deal with specific, infrequent situations. 'If we engage with this system too long and too hard, the system that gives us superpowers and helps us transcend our current reality, it moves into a different space,' he says. Eventually, if we remain in a constant state of stress, the prolonged release of cortisol will start affecting our mood, as well as our physical and mental health. It's simply not sustainable. Fortunately, Sutton provides a 5-step 'business plan' of sorts to help you manage stress and make the most of its affect on our minds and bodies.
What are the 5 steps to mastering stress?
1). Reframe your mindset
Your mind is one of the most powerful and influential aspects of your body. That's why mental strength and agility is crucial to mastering stress. When you're under stress, try to reframe your mindset and turn the situation into a more positive one. Think about the benefits of stress and fast-forward to a time when you've conquered the challenge at hand. Stress creates potential for growth; something to consider when you're reframing your mindset.
2). Change your behaviour
Rather than withdrawing when you're under stress - which is a common reaction - try to engage with other people and ask for help if you need it. Fight the urge to be alone. It takes a team to conquer stress, so foster good relationships and embrace social interactions.
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3). Switch it off
An important step when it comes to mastering stress and learning to make the most of it... Learning to switch it off. Once you've dealt with a stressful situation, see it for what it is and let go of the anxiety. You need to move on. In order to switch off from stress and stimulate the vagus nerve that tells us to relax, Sutton suggests four deep breaths, a burst of cold water to the face or 15 minutes of yoga or meditation.
4). Learn to rebuild
While switching off is an immediate solution, you also need to think about the long-term ways to control stress. This involves rebuilding your body and mind, and adjusting your lifestyle to create a lasting environment of positivity. Solutions include regular exercise, good sleep patterns and a healthy diet.
5). Build up resilience
The final step in your journey to mastering stress. And, ultimately, the most important one. The above tips will help you conquer stressful situations, but you want these skills to last so that the next time you're under stress, you can handle it. Building resilience will help you tackle future challenges, allowing you to adapt to whatever comes your way. This is where friends and family come in, because you can't build resilience on your own. Talk to people, share experiences and grow as a collective.