Self-care and mindfulness are vital, but they don’t often take priority. Sometimes, you need a little push to pause and check in with yourself; how are your stress levels, and do you have coping techniques when life gets demanding? As Mark Twain’s famous quote captures – ‘I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.’ Life is life, so whether you worry about it or not, it’s going to happen anyway.

Even if you’re a self-care guru with a regular yoga practice, lavender essential oils on your burner and go-to methods for unwinding, stress can quickly creep past your good intentions and become toxic. Even if you’re aware of stressors in your everyday life, the fact you’re counting endless sheep all night and flaring up at your friends and family suggests stress is winning. Don’t worry – you’re not failing at calm; even the most cool-headed cats can’t always stave off strain.

With Stress Awareness Month coming up in April – it’s a great time to take stock of stress and find ways to rise above it. Minimise the power stress has over you by getting to know what it is, how it affects you and how you can build your resilience.

As the body’s reaction to perceived or real danger and challenges – stress is part of life. Tension isn’t always a by-product of what’s around you, it can also be a result of your self-expectations. When you’re stressed out, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, and your energy lifts; the stress hormone, Cortisol, also shoots up, increasing your glucose level.

Some stress is good. It helps us stay on guard; motivated to tackle both the stuff we love and the stuff we have to get through. When stress turns toxic, leaving you exhausted, worried and swamped – that’s bad stress. This is the kind of strain that doesn’t contribute anything positive – it’s just plain – stressful. Whether you can stay in the good-stress zone or submit to unhelpful stress depends if your life’s in a good or bad place. If you stay in a stressed-out state for too long, your coping mechanisms will crumble, and your health, mindset, relationships and mood will suffer.

Stress is a health hazard; taking its toll on your body, mind, emotions and behaviour. Next time you’re in a hard place, notice if you’ve got a headache, tense muscles, chest pain or upset stomach – stress could be the culprit. It can also be the root of your anxiety, restlessness, lack of focus, anger and sadness. Stress won’t disappear by binge eating, getting angry, drinking alcohol or withdrawing from your friends; it only stops when you learn to combat it.

Some stress is inevitable. Rather than expecting a sea of tranquillity, get your stress symptoms in check by learning some coping strategies. Staying active is a powerful way to reduce stress; try building regular exercise, meditation, yoga, tai chi or massage into your week. And if you don’t have time to attend a class, simple deep breathing is tops.

Keeping a smile on your dial; find the fun and funny side of life is another fab stress-reliever, as is socialising and fostering your hobbies and passions. And while the odd Netflix binge or video game can be just what the doctor ordered – if you resort to these too often, your stress will increase. Active stress-management skills are always more healthy and useful than numbing out with devices.

When you get stuck in a stress rut, you can re-track your thoughts through awareness. Instead of travelling down a road that doesn’t work for you, set yourself in a new groove by being pre-emptive. Before stress affects your sleep or puts knots in your stomach, learn to think your way out of the overwhelm. 

Tune into your stress levels and ask yourself if it’s the good kind or the kind that causes you harm. Think about the areas in your life that stress you out, and nip them in the bud. Where stress is unavoidable, choose to respond differently by adopting new strategies for stomping it out. Work on the things you can control; a healthy diet, doing things you enjoy, maintaining a yoga and meditation practise and if you feel stuck – talk to a counsellor.

 Take a deep breath; this too shall pass.

Candice Mattiske