Stress is an inescapable part of our everyday lives. It can either improve our health, energy, relationships, careers, and lives or it can end them.
From the moment we wake up, to the moment our head hits the pillow each night we experience constant stress. We can’t escape stress (even though we try) so we must learn how to master it.
But what is stress? Stress can be defined as our body and minds’ response to any demand, real or imagined, positive or negative. Not all stress is “bad.” Complimentary stress or eustress is the kind of stress that can have positive outcomes, like exercising or studying for a test.
For the purpose of this article, we will be exploring uncomplimentary chronic mental stress, which makes up about 60-75% of our daily stress. This type of stress has very little benefit and comes from mainly how we think and the meaning we apply to our thoughts.
It’s that feeling of my life is out of control and that there are problems in my environment that I’m just not on top of.
We feel pressured to perform, to handle more, and to always be “on” and as a result, many of us have forgotten how to turn “off.” It’s the never-ending onslaught of emails, phone calls, text messages, bills, have to’s and to do’s.
We are overworked, overweight, overwhelmed, and consistently underslept all of which compound the negative effects of stress in our daily lives.
When we feel stress (whether it’s real or perceived), our bodies fight-or-flight response is activated triggering an increased heart rate, heightened muscle preparedness, sweating, and alertness.
All of these responses help protect us in dangerous or challenging situations but contribute to disease when they are left in the “on” position which is what chronic stress does.
Unmanaged chronic stress can have devasting consequences for our health. It’s linked to just about every disease… obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, strokes, and Alzheimer’s to name a few.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it has been estimated that 75 to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
We are living in the middle of a stress epidemic.
The World Health Organization stated that stress is the epidemic of the 21st century and it’s costing us big time. According to a recent, study, only 30% of us are engaged and performing to our full potential and almost half of us struggle to balance work and life.
If we don’t learn how to release our stress, our performance greatly suffers as does our ability to contribute our best to our families, organizations, and communities.
Stress is the #1 performance killer and the thief of joy.
Unfortunately, we were never taught how to manage stress let alone master it. Most of us were taught how to manage stress by those who didn’t know how to manage their own.
We learn ineffective counterproductive ways of managing stress which can be summed up in the following way three ways:…
- Lashing out in anger or frustration which can create a loss of relationships
- Zoning out with T.V, movies, social media, or work which can create a loss of time
- Numbing out with food, alcohol and other drugs which can create a loss of health
This is how most of us have learned to deal with stress and it’s creating much of the unnecessary suffering in our lives.
So at this point, hopefully, you are wondering how to become a master of your stress?
The first step to stress mastery is what I call creating “stress awareness.” It’s identifying your unique stress blueprint or how you deal with stress.
Simply put a stress blueprint is a preset program of how we handle stress which includes a combination of thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and actions in relation to real or perceived stress.
So how do you currently manage your stress? Do you lash out in anger and frustration? Zone out with work, t.v, shopping, surfing the web? Or numb out with eating too much food, drinking wine or smoking?
Stress mastery happens when we are brave enough to check in, rather than check out. This requires us to take a good look in the mirror and be honest with ourselves even if we don’t like what we see at the moment.
The second step is implementing new strategies and tools to change our current stress blueprint. In order to do this, we must make stress mastery practices a non-negotiable part of our everyday lives. This takes a commitment but will allow us to retrain the relaxation response or as I like to say fully switch off.
Letting go of self-chosen stressors, allows us to live in greater efficiency creating higher levels of natural energy to perform at a much high capacity.
One of the frameworks I use to help my clients rewire their stress blueprints I call the Release Method.
The first step in the Release Method is to recognize that you are feeling stress and identify the root cause. The second step is to “release it” by choosing to either rest, recharge or reset.
Resting involves giving ourselves permission to slow down and simply taking a few deep diaphragmatic breaths. It could also involve taking a short nap, taking a walk, getting a full 8 hours of sleep or doing something that allows our body and mind to slow down and recover.
Recharging involves implementing a consistent daily practice such as meditation that helps clear stress out of our body and mind. Recharging is something we should do not just when we feel stressed but every day to better prepare for stress.
There are several great apps that teach simple and effective meditation techniques. One of my personal favorites and one I often recommend is called, “Head Space.” Give it a try!
Resetting involves taking time to play, ideally doing something active and fun with people we care about and love.
It involves creating positive authentic connections and community. Resetting could also take the form of a weekend getaway once per month or at least once per quarter. It could be a stimulus reset such as doing a weekend digital detox with (no phone, computer, or T.V) or taking that much-needed vacation.
The truth is knowing better doesn’t always lead to doing better. Knowledge isn’t power, action is! Taking action to master our stress allows us to thrive versus simply survive and it’s worth the effort.
Ultimately becoming a master of stress takes commitment, time, and new action yet it yields more energy, joy, creativity, meaning, and purpose in our lives.
My hope is that after reading this you take action to identify your stress blueprint and use some (or all) of the strategies in the Release Method. For more stress mastery tools and coaching visit https://devinburke.com/stressmastery or connect with me on social @