When pressure turns into stress, and what to do about it

It’s a creeper in the night and a thief of sleep. It’s a wave of emotion leaving cold sweats and a pounding heartbeat in its wake. It’s the tightness in your chest and the uncontrollable shakes taking over your body.

This is the peak of stress, when pressure and overwhelm pinnacle into panic.

Overwhelm will feel and impact you in your own way, but it’s the failure to differentiate this stress from pressure that is the downfall of most. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but they couldn’t be more different. According to renowned psychologist Hendrie Weisinger, Ph.D. in his book Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most, there’s a critical difference between the two.

Overwhelm is when there are too many demands and not enough resources, while pressure is when you perceive something to be dependent on the outcome of your performance.

There are times when pressure can be good thing, like motivating you to study for next week’s test. But there is never a good kind of stress. It’s like a worm wiggling its way into your brain, toying with your rational thinking, giving you mood swings, and affecting your wellbeing. Stress can be a result of how you deal with pressure, and everyone has a different capacity for their pressure-points. When you tip past that point, whatever pressure is added becomes stress.

Lucky for us, there’s a bunch of ways to tame these negative emotions.

1. Stop and breathe

We know you’re probably sick of being told to “take a deep breath”, but the truth is, breathing is a powerful antidote to panic. The reason it’s so powerful is because it shifts your brain waves, instructing your mind to relax, which then sends signals to your body to calm down. Key stress indicators like increased heart rate, high blood pressure and tense muscles all decrease once you start to breathe deeply.

2. Take time out

When stress hits big, call time and hit the bench. Identify the situation that is causing you stress, and remove yourself from it entirely (where possible, of course!). Find a quiet place free from distraction, and melt away stress with some simple meditations.

3. Laugh it off

Laughing is an almost instant tension-buster! Throwing your head back for a chuckle will relax your whole body and release feel-good chemicals (aka endorphins). Once you’ve found your quiet place, try opening up YouTube for a hilarity hit from your favourite bumbling blogger, or cue up a binge of Netflix comedians for a side-splitting tea break.

4. Get moving

Finally, clear your mind. Head outdoors for a healthy hit of oxygen, filling your lungs with fresh air and soak up the sun (donning sunscreen and a hat of course!) for a dose of vitamins that will instantly improve your mood.

From here on in, try to top up your wellness tank day by day and hour by hour, so you never have to talk yourself down from a stress avalanche ever again!

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