Stress is a word we throw around rather loosely in our everyday lives. We use it to describe those moments when we’re busy, overwhelmed, dealing with a new situation or just simply dealing with day to day life. But, what does it truly mean to be stressed?

Life is full of unexpected situations or scenarios that create an unexpected set back and stress is a normal human reaction that happens to everyone. In this episode, we’re going to unpack stress, and how you can manage stress in your every day life. Firstly, it’s important to accept that you can’t control everything in life and COVID-19 is a perfect example of this. Stress isn’t always a negative response, stress can be positive, as it keeps us alert, motivated and ready to avoid danger. It can be a short-term issue or a long-term problem, depending on what changes in your life. However, when it’s all becomes too overwhelming, there are some coping mechanisms that can help you in those moments of feeling stressed.

Today we discuss ways you can manage your stress levels by reframing your thoughts, sleeping soundly, exercising to shift your mindset, meditating to calm the mind and prioritising what is most important and discarding what isn’t. You can learn to live with stress and live your best life!

In this episode

00:58 – Introduction to stress

03:36 – What happens to the body

06:42 – Reframing how we think about stress

12:39 – Learning to prioritise our time

18:05 – The benefits of meditation

24:15 – The power of exercise

30:57 – Lack of sleep

36:35 – Conclusion

Check out ‘The Stress Solution: The 4 Steps to a Calmer, Happier, Healthier You’ by Rangan Chatterjee

Episode Transcription

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 00:58

How often do you find yourself saying I am so stressed? How often do others tell you what a stressful day or week they’ve had? When you stop to think about it, we throw the word stress around so loosely in our everyday lives. It’s almost as though we take the word for granted. It’s often our go to word when we’re busy, overwhelmed, dealing with a new situation or just simply dealing with day to day life. Ok but what is stress? What does it truly mean to be stressed? How does it truly affect us?

Life is full of unexpected situations or scenarios that creates an unexpected set back and stress is a normal human reaction that happens to everyone. Stress can be a short-term issue or a long-term problem, depending on what changes in your life. In this episode, we’re going to unpack stress, how do our bodies respond to stress? And what are some simple go to things we can do overcome stress?I want to share with you some of my favourite coping mechanisms that can help you in those moments of feeling stressed.

It’s important to understand that the human body is designed to experience stress and to react to it. When we experience changes or challenges, in other words, when we experience those stressors in our lives, our body’s normal reaction is to produce physical, intellectual and mental responses. That’s what stress is. Stress responses help our body to adjust to new situations. Therefore stress isn’t just a negative response, stress can be positive, as it keeps us alert, motivated and ready to avoid danger. For example, if you have an important test or an audition coming up, a stress response will help your body work harder and stay awake longer and this is ok. But when stressors continue without relief or periods of relaxation. That is when stress becomes a problem.

So what happens to the body when we are in stress mode? The body’s autonomic nervous system controls your heart rate, breathing, vision changes and more. Its built-in stress response, the “fight-or-flight response,” helps the body face stressful situations. When a person has long-term stress, in other words they are chronically stressed, that continued activation of the stress response will cause wear and tear on the body. This is when physical, emotional and behavioural symptoms develop. Let’s break these down a little further:

Some of the Physical symptoms of stress can include:

  • Aches and pains.
  • Chest pain or a feeling like your heart is racing.
  • Exhaustion or trouble sleeping.
  • Headaches, dizziness or shaking.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Muscle tension or jaw clenching.
  • Stomach or digestive problems.
  • Trouble having sex.
  • And a Weakened immune system.

In terms of the emotional and mental symptoms stress can also lead to include:

  • Anxiety or irritability.
  • Depression.
  • Panic attacks.
  • And Sadness.

Many of these physical, emotional and mental symptoms can also be associated with other things too and the problem with stress is that it’s difficult to diagnose and is highly subjective. A healthcare provider may use questionnaires to understand your stress and how it affects your life. But only the person experiencing it can determine whether it’s present and how severe it feels.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 03:36

Often, and most unfortunately when some people suffer with chronic stress, they try to manage it with really unhealthy behaviours, which can lead to addictions, and behaviours that can be detrimental. Some of these include:

  • Drinking alcohol too much or too often.
  • Gambling.
  • Overeating or developing an eating disorder.
  • Participating compulsively in sex, shopping or internet browsing.
  • Smoking.
  • Using drugs.

The good news is that regularly using stress management techniques can help you avoid most physical, emotional and behavioural symptoms of stress. You can’t avoid stress, that’s just a part of life, but you can stop it from becoming overwhelming by implementing some daily practices. So let’s look at some things that you can do to keep stay on top of stress and to keep you in a positive mindset.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 06:42

    1. Reframing how we think about stress

Stress is not something we often get to choose and at times we don’t have the opportunity to take it off our wish list. But we can reframe how we think about stress. It’s mind over matter. Most of us have been trained to think of stress as the enemy and that stress can kill you. However there is now a new school of thought that is the result of researching stress that tells us that it’s the way that you think about stress that’s harmful.

There was a study that tracked 30,000 adults in the US over a period of 10 years and asked them if they experienced stress in their lives and if they believed that stress is harmful. They found that for the sub set of people who had a very stressful life, and strongly believed that stress was harmful, they had a 43% risk of dying from any cause over the next decade. For those who had the most stressful lives and did not believe that stress could be harmful, they were the most likely to be alive at the end of the decade. This research suggests that stress is not always the enemy, but it’s how we perceive stress that is the problem.

So is it possible too that your mindset can create some positive outcomes that we don’t usually associate with stress? The stress mindset affect, which is the idea that the way we think about stress can make your body’s response to stress healthier, can make a change to what happens in your brain in times of stress that make you braver, more resilient, more willing to accept help from others and these mindsets can change the course of how stress affects you.

As I said earlier, realistically, there is no good stress, this is a misconception. And most of us don’t get to choose how stressful our lives are. COVID-19 is a perfect example of that. We did not chose for this pandemic to come into our lives. Life can be difficult. It can be good or bad, but usually stress arises in you when something you care about is at stake. Stress is a physiological thing and it often involves hormones and energy and brain activity that is trying to push you in the direction of meeting life. It’s your thoughts, your emotions, your biology, your stress hormones, your adrenaline, your desire to reach out to others, sometimes it is a sense of outrage and anger that helps you meet a moment that matters.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 09:48

In those moments of stress, some of those instincts are going to be healthy and helpful while others are not. It’s about learning more about your stress responses and the repertoire that is available to you and how do you get good at managing stress. It’s learning to Identify in a moment of stress whether it is a time of slowing down and taking a breath in life. Is it a moment that requires you being vulnerable and asking for help or is this a time that requires rising to the challenge because it’s an emergency and you need that adrenaline level to rise to the occasion? That can all be good stress.

This is just by reframing energy that can be harnessed. These are all grounded in biological reality. When we are really stressed there are changes in our brains and in our hormone levels that make us lonely. You can start to feel really alone and most people don’t realise this is your body trying to give you energy, just like when your heart is pounding. When you are lonely it is your heart and your brain trying to get you to connect. It is making you hungry for support and for connection for allies, for team work and co-operation. It produces a hunger for social contact and community. It is another type of stress signal that people misread and want to withdraw.

When it comes to stress, reframing your thoughts can become a most practical way of changing your mindset. Life is an interpretation and the language that we use will influence the way that we think and feel. Whatever word you use after I am, is how you manifest in the mind. Then the body and the mind connect and we create that. I’m sick. I’m not feeling well. We can manifest those conditions in our minds. It’s not as though we ignore those things and act as though they are not there, but the more we think those things and eliminating the word stress and overwhelm and reframing those thoughts can be powerful also. However, there is a balance between wanting to be so positive that we ignore reality.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 12:39

    1. Prioritise

We must learn to prioritise our time. Too often we have so much on our plates with our careers, our relationships, our friends, our families, our hobbies or our side hustle. There’s so much going on and with the stress of the world around us, especially at present, life can be really overwhelming at times. We can feel that life is pulling us in so many directions,when we already feel fragmented. We end up feeling wiped out, stressed out and burnt out all the time. Being those things is not a good strategy to conquering your days or even on a more basic level, enjoying life.

You must create priorities. There’s that old saying in life. If it doesn’t rain, it pours! How often do you find that everything just seems to happen all at once? All those opportunities, all those tasks, all those meetings, all those emails and all those who are demanding of your time? And simply it’s not possible to give 100% to everything all at once. And when we are stressed in the present moment, it’s hard to be optimistic about the future because we are constantly thinking, I can’t do all these things. There’s just too much going on!!!

But with a bit of effort, we can take control of a situation and remain positive. This is by planning and prioritising. Do you set goals and priorities for your day, your week and your month. I promise you that narrowing your view of what is most important will help you feel more in control of the here and the now as well as those long-term tasks.

We put so much pressure on ourselves and we think we’ have to do all these different things and we have to do them all perfectly well right now. Well I hate to say that it’s not always going to be perfect and you don’t have to do it all now, so you can allow yourself to let go of that pressure. We can’t do a million things all at once, so literally do yourself the favour, relax your mind, take a breath, embrace the opportunities in front of you and prioritise.

And you can start to prioritise by creating a list of all those tasks, list them in order of what is most important, what is most urgent, pick the top priorities and start ticking them off your list one at a time. Give yourself permission to eliminate, to delegate, to prioritise, to breathe and to work hard in the moment when it’s necessary. And really be grateful and embrace those opportunities in front of you. You know you may never ever have them again.

It’s also important In those moments, to give yourself permission to work hard. Many of us beat ourselves up when we’re overwhelmed or stressed. And that is not helpful!! Instead, say to yourself, I have a lot on my plate, and now is the time I need to really bunker down and sacrifice. It’s ok right now to work hard and push past my comfort zone. In life, you are not always going to have the perfect workload all the time. There will be days when you will be in overload and then you will have days when there’s only a few things on your plate for that day.

Not every day is going to comfortable. Life doesn’t work like that. So be willing to go all in and sacrifice when you have to. Life is full of seasons. There will be seasons when you have to work hard to plant the seeds that will lead to you reaping the big benefits, so don’t beat yourself up over when you go all in. Change your mind set about these times and get on with it and enjoy the fruits of your labour. Enjoy the changing seasons. Take a moment to think about your accomplishments and don’t focus on what you didn’t get done.

I know this sounds so basic and it is, but I promise you that it will help you manage your stress, your overall health and well-being and in turn this will help you in your everyday peak performance. You deserve to live your best life.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 18:05

    1. Meditation

Let’s talk about meditation. I know this might be a woo woo thing for you. You need to start your day armed ready to deal with anything that life presents you and meditation is a proven stress relief. Meditation can help us to centre ourselves amidst the chaos and the stress, the struggle and the challenge and a bad day. It will help us flip from angst to ease, from chaos to clarity. We need to learn to centre ourselves in times when we need it and also when we don’t need it. It needs to become a daily habit. It is a discipline that we can gift ourselves. You must learn to train your mind to disengage from the drama, and the stress so that you can deal with the times in the future that are fifty times more stressful.

You need to have the mental energy to deliver your best, stay focused and feel vibrant and energised. If your ability to deal with stress is dictating your ability to be your best self, live your best life and reach your goals, you need a centring practice every day so that in the moments that matter, you are able to anchor down and go for it. It has become so important for me to re-calibrate each morning and remove any residual emotional baggage or stress from the previous day by meditating. No day is perfect but you can set your day up ready to go with a meditation practice!

For some of you centring yourself means closing your eyes thinking about who you want to be, what Is important in your life, calming your mind down. Whereas for others centring could be laying down and taking a quick nap, for some of you it can be important self talk and for some of you that can be meditation. Personally if I don’t centre myself by meditating, first thing every morning, even if it’s for a quick 10 minutes, that day I will feel overwhelmed and my stress cup will overflow. My days are usually quite chaotic so I have to make sure that I take that time every single day to give my brain a rest. For some of you, your meditative practice might walking out in nature and feeling the sun on you and helps you to feel grounded. Whatever it is you do, it is important to centre in on your breath, deep breaths. The recommended is 6 – 7 meditations per week for 10 to 26 minutes long.

There is so much science that supports the importance of meditation It is proven in science that meditation helps people become more creative, less stressed, happier, and healthier in almost every area of their lives. It’s not a spiritual idea or a woo woo thing, as most of you might think and as I always thought. In 50,000 brains studied in a meditation study that was carried out, it was conclusive how much meditation alleviates stress and improves overall health and yet It is hard to believe that people do not mediate.

Your brain is not wired to go all day, consuming all that data and information. But it does and it is capable of it but it’s also capable of burning out. The brain is like the motor in the car, it can deal with the road trip, but it cannot keep going forever without falling apart. That is what happens with most people. You need to be able to switch the brain off, power down and let your brain access something higher than your immediate needs in that moment in time.

Every major highly successful person meditates and are unashamedly known to mediate. Any of the people at the highest level of their professions or sport mediate. Those who are earning 7 figure incomes meditate because they need the edge, they need to recharge and that reconnection with creativity. The Seinfeld show was a result of Jerry Seinfeld meditating. He needed to meditate to find that creative access to be that funny. So do Oprah, Ellen and most of the stars and sporting heroes that you follow. They are aware that the stress will build up on you.

Tranquillity is the new modern day luxury, and it comes at no cost in the serenity of the early hours of the morning.It is a great time to mediate.If you have never meditated or you may even meditate once in a while on a per needs basis, but don’t think that it is necessary for you all the time, especially when you are feeling good, now is a great time to make it a daily part of your life. You can learn to centre yourself every single day. Mediation is a way to tap into a deeper level of your brain waves or a deeper consciousness, whatever you want to call it.

Meditation helps us get back to our high performance mindset and physical health. If you’ve never tried it, set aside time today, find a meditation app and go for it! Your mind will love you for it!

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 24:15

    1. The Power of Exercise

Exercise is a powerful antidote to the modern epidemics of anxiety, depression, loneliness and stress. Did you know that the body has power over the physical thought? So when you feel symptoms of stress coming on, even a short walk can boost your mood. This is the perfect time to walk outside and get some fresh air as well as some vitamin D especially as many of us work indoors and we end up spending all day indoors.

You do have to be fair and reasonable with exercise and do what you can, when you can. Sometimes your schedule won’t allow for a long and intense exercise session. Then there are those days when you have to listen to your body. Yes, listen to your body! Take the tortoise and the hare approach to exercise. Easy and carefully for longevity. Doing more than you are physically capable of will cause injury and burn out and you will dread exercising and won’t do it. If something causes you pain, STOP immediately! Learn what is good for your body and know your limitations. The last thing you want is to be injured. For me going to the gym is a stress relief. It’s that time that I empty my stress cup. It is also time for social interaction, connecting with others and if I can’t talk, I am training too hard!

In achieving long term success, and happiness, you have to get yourself moving everyday. For some of you that could mean a 30 minute walk everyday and make sure you walk briskly. For others it can be biking, swimming, jogging or doing cross fit. No matter what It is, you need to find the thing that really works for you and shift it around. In maintaining physical activity, you need variability. If you tend to mix it up, you will stick to it longer.

The brain rewards you every time you do something new and when you do something new, it brings you joy and elevates your physical experience. Your brain gets addicted to vulnerability. It loves change!! The brain releases dopamine and oxytocin. Those chemicals are released in our body when we do something new that brings us joy.If you go to the same restaurant every week, it loses it pep and its zeal and this is the same with exercise. Mixing it up, will help you stick with it longer.

It is recommended that you do 5 to 6 workouts per week, that means that you have to move 5 to 6 times per week. I hate exercise but I love how it makes me feel. I feel so much more energised and productive on the days that I exercise. If I don’t exercise my stress levels increase, I need endorphins to help me cope with my massive work weeks.

My weekly sessions is broken down to one or two Pilates sessions, 2 gym sessions where I incorporate some weight trainingand 2 x 45 minute walks per week. One of these is with my husband on a Sunday morning. We walk, then grab a take away coffee and sit in the park have our coffee and talk. We both love it!!! Why do I do all this? BecauseI want to feel good. I know it helps me manage my stress levels but it also energises me. How many of you notice that when you sit that sedentary state affects your brain but also makes you feel lethargic? Sitting has been called the new smoking. The sedentary lifestyle is the worst thing for your health.

So no one is saying that you have to run a marathon, to be honest I do not like running at all!!! I believe the only people who should run are those who are being cahsed by someone with a gun or a knife. Otherwise running is a big waste of time!! You also don’t need to leap from tall buildings or do cross fit or throw weights around. The best recommendation is just sixty minutes of gentle exercise to help to increase your energy levels, improve your productivity, manage today’s stress and give you the endurance to offer your best throughout the whole day. During the day you can get up and move, stretch, bounce and activate your body every hour. These things are important to increasing your frequency and elevating your mood. Try it for three weeks and notice how moving impacts your days.

You have to create space, time and routine for it to be in your life as a regular part of your week. You need to plan when you are going to exercise during the week. I put this in my weekly planner as part of scheduling my time table for the week. A little disclaimer that before you begin an exercise regime, you need to consult your doctor or health professional who knows your body, your genetics and how your physical health is affecting you.

In short, you work out, so you can control your stress levels and have the energy to serve and to fulfil your mission. I don’t care about what you look like because it has nothing to do with body image and it’s not about body shaming, it’s about having the energy to manage your day and deal with life’s challenges.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 30:57

    1. Lack of Sleep

Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our life, health and longevity and yet it’s becoming more and more neglected in our society. And this neglect comes with devastating consequences. Our lack of sleep can compromise our immune system, energy levels, performance outcomes, stifle creativity, build tension in our working relationships and create stress.

So lack of sleep doesn’t just affect you physically; it also affects you mentally and emotionally. Another reason to sleep 7 to 8 hours is because there is a very high correlation between stress and stress and a lack of sleep. So, if you are having really busy days, teaching all day, going home to answer the emails you didn’t have time to respond to, a massive to do list, then you have household chores, cooking, dealing with children, it all creates stress and this releases the cortisol hormone in our blood, in our bodies, and in our cells. If you are having really busy days, dealing with children, a massive to do list, it all creates stress and stress often enacts and comes from the cortisol hormone in our blood, in our bodies, and in our cells. So now we feel stressed through the day. We use our brain throughout the day and that is using more cells.

When most people go to bed, they think it’s relaxing, they feel good, but sleep time is recovery time. What happens to your brain is that it goes into a dishwasher mode. You load the dishwasher before bed and in the morning the dishes are clean. That is what happens to your brain. Neuro chemicals start moving and dealing with the debris of cellular decline so as your cells become older or as they get used, that is that the neuro transmitters get used up, there is debris then at night, your dishwasher goes on in your brain. It doesn’t happen at 10am. It doesn’t happen at noon. The only time it happens is when we go into a deep sleep and the dishwasher turns on. It deals with all the debris and also all that cortisol, the stress hormone. You will find yourself sharper, smarter, more creative in the mornings. You wake up with all these ideas or after an hour, you feel more creative and that is because the debris of cell decay has been dealt with. You feel less or no stress in the morning than what you do say in the afternoon.

Have you ever gone on vacation and you were stressed for weeks on end prior to going away on the vacation. You go away and then you slept the whole time you were gone because you were relaxed? Sometimes you go away and you feel exhausted, in fact worse than you feel while you were at work. I always feel like this the first week of holidays. You have to go with it and not be hard on yourself. Listen your body and you will feel amazing. Sleep will give you a positive mindset. So if you are a grump, and you are stressed, look at your sleep patterns.

For me if I am sleep deprived, I become an emotional mess, I will start crying at the drop of a hat. You can’t even ask me how I am and I will cry and I have done that many a time and it’s every time I haven’t had enough sleep.

I have performed gigs, when I was doing 11 gigs per week and I was severely sleep-deprived. I had to work a lot harder at the gig, to stay at my peak performance levels. I was stressed out because at times my brain wouldn’t function, I couldn’t deal with audience members talking to me in my breaks when I just wanted to be left alone andmy mind was filled with negative self-talk. and I was full of self doubt asking myself – am I going to get through this next set, can I make to the end of the night, I can’t keep doing this, I was full of guilt for leaving my child.

So, what’s really happening here? Your amygdala, the part of your brain that triggers strong, negative emotions, is more easily hijacked when you’re tired. And the prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that helps to manage these negative emotions, can’t do its job when you haven’t had enough rest.

Sleep helps with your ability to have less stress in your relationships. People who have the greatest and most enduring conflicts in their immediate circle of family and friends, all share one common theme, is the lack of rest as well as communication. Lack of communication can come from irritability and the lack of sleep creates stress. If you’re a person who is constantly in conflict with others, please check your sleeping patterns. If you know people who are constantly fighting with others, please check their sleeping patterns. You become more irritable and more impatient, the less you sleep. It’s a vicious cycle.

A lot of unhappiness comes from lack of rest. If you are a grump, look at your sleep. Everything in your life, your surroundings, your work, your family will change by sleeping well. Sleep will give you a positive mindset and help you alleviate stress.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 36:27

Life is full of unexpected situations or scenarios that creates an unexpected set back and stress is a normal human reaction that happens to everyone. These are just a few things you can do to stay positive and shift your mindset in those times of high stress. But If you need extra support that’s ok. There’s no shame in admitting you need help and you need to confide in someone you trust, seek a therapist or talk to a doctor. Give yourself permission to ask for help. It’s ok if you can’t do it on your own. And it’s worth it!!

Managing stress levels will help you reach your highest performance levels in every area of your life, help you stay focused, be more fulfilled, more excellent and on purpose. Now is the time to take good care of your body each day, eat right, exercise and get enough sleep to help your body handle stress much better. It’s important to accept that you can’t control everything, so in those moments when it’s all too much, stay positive, practice gratitude, and acknowledge the good parts of your day or life. Find ways to let go of worry about situations you cannot change. It’s time now to live your best life!