Richard Lazarus, a prominent psychologist, defined stress as a condition or feeling, experienced when a person perceives that the demands placed on them (by their environment) exceed the resources they have available. Lazarus also found that stress often has less to do with a person's actual situation than with how the person perceived the strength of his own resources. To overcome the stress, one needs to look at both changing the situation itself as well as changing their emotional relationship to the situation.
Unlike pressure, that can be seen as a “motivator”, stress is never good for you and never a positive thing. Stress creates unhealthy biological reactions, and prolonged stress can lead to both physical and mental health breakdown, affecting everything from sleep, digestion and libido to our relationships. In 2015/16, stress accounted for 37% of all work-related ill health cases and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health*.
Mounting scientific evidence from universities around the world strongly suggests that mindfulness not only reduces stress but also gently builds an inner strength so that future stressors have less impact on our happiness and physical well-being. Mindful practices, such as Yoga, Pilates and Meditation can help one deal with stress by affecting the body, the mind and the relationship between the two.
Whether you’re holding postures, flowing through exercises and sequences, or in a seated meditation, everything begins to focus and slow down when you bring your awareness to the moment. Over time and with repeated practice, you become more aware and sensitive to the needs of your body. You may notice aches, pains and other “bodily stressors” sooner and can take action to relieve those.
All mindful practices give one an opportunity to practice “being” in the moment. The “being” mode of the mind is associated with relaxation as opposed to the “doing” mode of mind, which is associated with action and the stress response. As you become more aware of your thoughts, you can step back from them and not take them too literally. That way, your stress response is not initiated in the first place and instead, you have a moment to pause and come up with the best solution.
Mindful practices give you the opportunity to breathe more effectively. Stress and tension can cause us to breathe in a rapid, shallow way, which can lead to more anxiety. Pilates exercises enable the body to breath in a better, more balanced way utilising a fuller lung capacity. Yoga postures have a similar effect and Yoga breathing techniques are useful for reducing stress and have a calming effect too. Many meditations have a strong focus on breathing, improving the physical, mental and emotional aspects of it.
Taking the time to practice - stepping away from “everything” and investing in an activity that is all about you, can help improve one’s perspective in life. Changing a stress-causing situation can often be very difficult (or impossible) but changing our emotional relationship to the situation and building up the resources we have available, as well as our perception of those, is well within our reach.