The Truth about Stress

Dance and Stress Management

The Truth about Stress

By Kristin Deiss

Life got you stressed?

If you find yourself experiencing large amounts of stress, you are not alone. A 2021 study on stress in America, conducted in part by the American Psychological Association, shows that levels of stress have gone up since the previous year. It revealed that 84% of Americans report feeling various emotions associated with stress within the past few weeks, such as sadness, anger, and anxiety.

That’s a lot of stressed-out people trying to navigate their lives on a daily basis.

So, what exactly is stress, and how can it affect us?

The Mental Health Foundation defines stress as “the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure.” Most often, stress arises when we feel we don’t have the capacity to meet the demands of whatever our life is throwing at us. Sometimes, these are major life changes, and other times they are ongoing aspects of our life that leave us feeling depleted. In a cruel twist of fate, the more stressed we are, the less we can cope with the normal demands of life, as stress increases susceptibility to injury, illness, and fatigue.

But, the good news is not all stress is bad.

Wait, what?!

Yup - some of it is actually beneficial!

There are three types of stress: eustress, neustress, and distress.

Eustress is the good type of stress and comes from any situation that motivates or inspires someone and is thus enjoyable and not perceived as a threat. For instance, meeting someone you highly admire or falling in love would be examples of eustress.

Neustress is stress that’s neither good nor bad and comes from sensory stimuli or information believed to be inconsequential to one’s own state. Hearing about something happening around the world that has no real bearing on you could be considered a form of neustress.

And lastly, distress is the stress we most often speak about when we use the term “stress.” It comes from real or perceived threats and tends to promote negative effects on the body, emotions, and mind. Distress can either be acute (short in duration but intense) or chronic (less intense but longer in duration) and if not properly addressed, can affect our overall well-being.

That said, stress hormones in some situations and circumstances can actually sometimes help us. When our minds perceive a threat, hormones are released into the body to prepare it to survive that threat, and most often we enter flight or fight mode. But, sometimes, the threat is just small enough to release optimal levels of those hormones which studies have shown to “improve physical performance and mental-processing skills like concentration.” When at optimal levels of those hormones, then, we actually become more alert and better prepared to meet the challenge at hand.

How do we properly cope with stress then? Unfortunately, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Because the optimal levels of stress-related hormones are different for everyone, to effectively manage and cope with stress, it’s imperative that we understand what our optimal level is and then reduce the continued release of those hormones past those levels by using coping skills and relaxation techniques. Some of those skills and techniques include: meditating, journaling, spending time in nature, moving your body, engaging in a gratitude practice, starting a social media detox, connecting with others, sticking to a routine, aiming for better sleep, and paying attention to nutrition.

Try experimenting with these to see what works for you. And if one method doesn’t work, try another! While these are just a few, there are tons of options to add to your toolkit to better cope with stress, so get experimenting!

What helps you cope with stress? Share with the community by letting us know below!

Kristin Deiss is an educator, yogi, healer, and mom trying to live her best life through helping others improve theirs.

She holds an MFA in Dance Performance and Choreography from Tisch School of the Arts at NYU and is a certified yoga teacher, Reiki Master, and Integrated Energy Practitioner.

Kristin is currently the Commercial Dance Chair at Hussian College Los Angeles, the co-founder of Danscend- Mental Wellness for Dancers, and writes about overcoming failure on Stir the Sage. For more resources to support mental wellness, be sure to check out Danscend’s offerings as well as follow them on Instagram!

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