By Mark Gilchrist
Stress is a major contributor to many physical and mental health issues. Experiencing stress regularly can affect our emotions and mental health by causing anxiety and depression, anger and irritability, poor sleep patterns, restlessness, lack of motivation and feelings of being overwhelmed. It can also result in a variety of physical symptoms which, if left unchecked, can lead to more serious health conditions. These include stomach aches and headaches, fatigue, chest pains, difficulty breathing, muscle tension and pain. These complaints can end up being the forerunners of long-term health issues including diabetes, heart disease, obesity and hypertension.
One of the biggest causes of stress is your career, and what is more stressful than a career as a poker player? They regularly go through a downswing and it can seem devastating to them at the time, losing huge amounts of money as well as their confidence. It is important their career doesn’t go into freefall if they have a bad run, so many of them utilize coping measures to get through the tension caused by an important game. Poker players have discussed a wide range of ways they manage stress before tournaments, including breathing exercises, understanding what causes frustration that can lead to stress, and staying in your comfort zone.
Causes and Coping Mechanisms
Common causes of stress include being under pressure, having something to worry about or feeling a lack of control over a situation, facing big life changes, having too many responsibilities or not having enough to do, and living through times of uncertainty. Sometimes one event triggers stress, but it can equally be caused by a slow build-up of lots of little things, which can make it harder to get to the root of the issue. Learning how to manage stress, particularly at times when life places us under pressure, can help maintain better physical and mental health. Learning how to identify triggers and implement coping measures when under pressure can make a huge difference.
One of the simplest yet most effective ways of managing a stressful situation in the moment is to focus on breathing. There are various breathing exercises that can help with stress, the most basic of which is simply taking several deep breaths. Focusing on breathing in through the nose for a count of five, then out through the mouth for a count of five, can help re-center the brain and prevent stress chemicals from being released into the bloodstream. When you breathe deeply, you send a message to your brain that things are calm and it is okay to be relaxed, rather than on alert for danger.
One of the keys to managing stress over the long-term is being proactive and choosing active ways to feel calmer and more able to cope. Activities such as playing video games, watching television of surfing the internet may help relax people in the short-term, but over the long-term these types of activity tend to increase rather than reduce stress.
Physical exercise can help manage stress in the immediate and being physically fitter as a result can also help reduce symptoms caused by longer-term stress. Fulfilling activities that bring joy can also reduce stress, such as spending time with loved ones, reading a favorite book or playing music can all help lower stress hormone levels.
Changing the Stress Mindset
The way and degree to which people cope with stress has a lot to do with what is known as their stress mindset. Some people, when faced with what they know will be a challenging situation, immediately begin to come up with appropriate coping strategies which ultimately help them feel more motivated, boosting their performance and leaving them feeling happier and more energized at the end of the day.
People with a negative stress mindset might view the same set of challenges as debilitating, unpleasant and impossible to deal with, which results in stress. However, there are ways of turning a negative stress mindset into a positive one. One study found that people who watched a horror film before entering a stressful situation experienced a sort of recalibration of the brain, whereby the stressful situation seemed more manageable when viewed from a new perspective.
Identifying triggers for stress can help lower overall stress levels in several ways. First, some of the triggers may be situations that can actually be avoided or made less stressful once they have been identified, such as not having enough time to complete a project or having to attend an appointment. Others may still have to be completed, but knowing they are coming up can help reduce stress through preparing coping mechanisms well in advance.
There are two types of pressure that can cause stress – internal and external. Many internal pressures, such as driving oneself to be the best at work or achieve impossible goals, can be reduced and made more manageable once they have been recognized as triggers of stress. External pressures, such as bereavements, illness or financial troubles, may be harder to fix, but recognizing them as causes of stress can still help ensure the right coping mechanisms are put in place and the right support is asked for.
There will always be events in life that are going to be stressful, whether those are one-offs or regular occurrences. It is not possible to avoid stressful situations altogether, but it is possible to change how we react to them so we can make them more manageable and reduce the negative effects placed on the mind and body as we navigate through them.