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Olivia Marley

With the current tube strikes affecting London, getting to work has been a lot more stressful than usual for a lot of people. Aside from the physical benefits that yoga brings, one of the most common reasons people come to class is to reduce their stress levels. But what actually is stress, and how should we be dealing with it?

What is stress?

The NHS says stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure. Pressure turns into stress when the sufferer feels unable to cope with, or not in control of, the situation they are in. Dealing with stress therefore means helping people feel more able to cope with the pressures they experience in their everyday lives. The way our body responds to dangers or situations we are faced with stems from our biological history as hunter gatherers. When faced with danger our bodies released the hormones adrenaline and cortisol as part of a fight or flight mechanism. The human body still reacts in this way. If the threat is physical, it uses the effects of these hormones appropriately – to fight or to run - and when the danger is passed the body recovers. But if the stress is emotional, the effects of adrenaline subside more slowly, and you may go on feeling agitated for a long time.

Is stress harmful?

Stress is useful in situations when you are under pressure to perform, such as giving a speech or sitting a test. Here the stress hormones will help you by increasing your energy and alertness levels, and improving your memory. People’s tolerance to unwelcome stresses as an individual as the person themselves. How any person responds to stress will be affected not just by events and changes in the world around them, but how that person perceives those events and respond to them. Stress is not an illness in itself, but allowed to continue can lead to a diagnosis of anxiety or depression.

How to reduce your stress levels

If you aren’t sure what is causing your stress some doctors recommend keeping a stress diary, and recording things like where you were, what you were doing, who you were with, and how you responded etc. This could help you work out what your stress triggers are, how you function under pressure and how you could cope better. Other people may be well aware what is making them feel stressed but are unable to avoid it, such as work or family life. As someone interested in yoga you will have already taken or be about to take some very useful steps in dealing with stress- coming to class! Yoga can help in a number of ways:

  • Concentrating on the poses and your breath will clear your mind of what is causing you stress
  • It allows you time away from the rest of your life- time that is just for you
  • It helps you connect with other people in your class, who may be able to provide emotional support
  • Meeting the challenge of getting into a challenging pose can be empowering enough to make you feel more able to meet other challenges in your life

There are also many online resources that are available to anyone. If you feel that you are becoming unable to cope with your stress levels, your GP or the NHS can help.