Ahh! I’m so stressed out! I still have applications to send out, audition season is fully underway, I have a test tomorrow, and my school show goes up in just a few weeks … why is this so stressful!?!?!
Does this inner monologue sound familiar? Stress is one of the biggest components of one’s life. We all experience and feel stress in different ways. However, many times, what we are calling stress is actually other emotions such as fear, worry, or anxiety; though these emotions relate to each other, there are differences. Fear is an untaught, instinctive reaction we have to danger. It is where fight, flight, and freeze comes into play. Anxiety is unwarranted or excessive fear. Both fear and anxiety can lead to worry, which is repetitive and reoccurring thoughts. Worry can then lead to stress, which is our perception that we are unable to meet the demands placed upon us. When we get clarity on what we are actually feeling, we can then choose to respond in a way that supports us. Paying attention to these emotions can help us to understand ourselves more deeply and therefore be able to manage the ever moving parts of our lives.
Most of the time, we view stress and similar emotions through a negative perspective. We find ourselves saying things like the inner monologue above. When not managed appropriately, stress can affect us in a negative way. It can lead to burn out, illness, and overall low performance.
However, not all stress should be viewed as negative. In fact, for us to perform optimally, research has shown that a certain amount of stress is needed. Psychologist, Kelly McGonigal, is known for her research on how our beliefs about stress have as much impact on us as does the actual stress itself. This means it’s good for our body and mind to understand how a certain amount of stress can actually help us to improve and be more successful in different areas of our life. For example, when training for a marathon, a runner needs to place a certain amount of stress on their body to build up the muscles and endurance to runs 26.2 miles. However, if the runner places too much stress on the body by running too many miles before they are ready or not taking the time to recover and rest, they will get injured.
In order to change this mindset about stress, neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to change throughout an individual’s life, plays a critical function. To the extent that levels of stress remain moderate and are not extreme, or reach the point of trauma, stress can actually challenge our brains in a productive way. Neuroplasticity allows for us to create new pathways in the brain. These new pathways help us to grow and adapt to our environments. If we can re-define how we respond to stress, we can build a new relationship with it; one where stress becomes a facilitating partner in our lives, not a debilitating one.
So how do we do that? Just like learning a new song, a monologue, or a dance, there are tools we can practice. Below are three practices you can start to incorporate into your life on a daily basis.
In the yoga philosophy, our breath, known as prana, is our foundation, our life-giving force. Studies have shown that breath exercises can improve the sense of well-being and foster a sense of calm, balance, and grounded-ness. There are many different breath practices. One of my favorites is called Square Breathing. In this breath, you inhale through your nose on a 4 count, pause at the top of your breath for a 4 count, exhale out your nose on a 4 count, and pause at the bottom of your breath for a 4 count. Repeat this for at least 3 rounds. You can even close your eyes and visualize your breath making a square.
As humans, we are egotistical beings. We are always trying to prove (or justify) that our thoughts, statements, and actions are correct. Therefore, it is important to be aware of what we are thinking and the types of thoughts we consistently have. Self talk can be put into three categories: positive, instructional, and negative. When we become mindful of our self talk and learn to shift our thoughts to support us, we foster a growth mindset, which builds our resiliency. One of the many mindset practices we can do is create positive affirmations for ourselves. When creating positive affirmations, it is important to make sure the statements are in present tense and have a personal meaning. I like to start with “I am …” statements. For example, I am safe. I am capable. I am a gifted artist. You can venture out of the “I am” structure as well. For example, Performing brings me joy. I always think and talk positively about myself. These affirmations can also be statements you are working towards but remember to state them in the present. For example, instead of: I will be a confident dancer, simply state: I am a confident dancer. Once you have your list of affirmations (5-7 is a good amount), you then want to say them to yourself every day, multiple times a day. The more we say them, the more our brain begins to believe them, and then we embody them.
One of the manifestations of stress is tightness in the body. The shoulders, jaw, and low back are common places people hold their stress. When we get tense, energy gets stuck in the body. In order for us to perform optimally, we need the energy to flow freely throughout our body. Stretching and light movements can help to release these areas of the body. Specifically, twists and forward folds help to release tightness and toxins. A forward fold places the heart higher than the head which allows for the blood to circulate in a different direction. Coupled with some intentional breathing, this brings a calmness to the body and allows you to re-center yourself. Twists can help to wring out the negative toxins in the body which creates more space for the energy to flow more freely.
Stress doesn’t have to be the enemy anymore; it can be our teacher and even our partner. By deciding to engage in these intentional practices on a daily basis, stress can be our teammate in helping us to achieve our greatest potential.
If you want support in managing your stress throughout this process and learn more tools to help you, book a Mental Training session with Coach Stephanie!
Found this helpful? Show some love and share with your friends: