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What’s Up with Stressed Out?

Updated: Oct 27, 2020


We’re stressed out! Never before has there been more sources of stress for us, given all the unknowns, losses, fears, changes and adjustments of living with the Covid 19 restrictions. When we perceive a situation that’s threatening, our bodies and brains start a series of physiological responses such as quickening the heart rate and blood supply and stopping unnecessary body processes like digestion so that we can act quickly. We respond to threat with the fight, flight or freeze response that our ancestors needed in order to save themselves from life-threatening situations.

Chronic Stress

In modern life, we rarely have life threatening events but our bodies still respond to stressors by gearing up for the fight, flight or freeze response. The body is designed to recover once the threat is gone. However as we experience one stressor after the other, we can find ourselves in a state of chronic stress where our bodies are continually on high alert. This takes a toll on our mental and physical health, and can lead to cardiovascular illness, obesity, gastrointestinal issues, depression and more. That’s a lot of reasons to do something to manage stress!

Managing Stress

We can develop skills to support the body’s relaxation response which counters the stress response. Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, focusing on a soothing word or image, yoga and tai chi can all help our minds and bodies relax. Physical exercise can also help.

Having a strong network of friends and family who can support you in times of stress helps. A recent study has found that “tending and befriending,” or sharing our struggles and helping each other. sets off three of our emotional systems; the reward system, the attunement system, and the social caregiving system. These systems produce neurotransmitters and hormones that help us reduce our fear, have more courage, become more motivated and have the intuition and self control to act skillfully. So when we’re stressed out, connecting with others can make a big difference!

Finally, acceptance can help us be less stressed about it. Acceptance here is about accepting our thoughts and feelings. We are able to see the bigger picture and not just focus on what’s wrong, and this helps us respond to our external circumstances in a wiser way. The skill of acceptance can be nurtured through mindfulness and through practicing self-compassion (see my previous blogs). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, an approach I take in my practice, also helps you develop this kind of acceptance.

For more about the work I do, see my website


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