Imagine you are driving through the mountains and spot a small fire in the woods. Your level of concern would probably depend on what you see around you and what is happening around the fire. Is the fire in a fire ring or at a campground? Is it small and contained or is it growing fast and taking over the land? Is it hot and dry out or is the weather cool and damp? How a fire behaves depends on many factors.
The stress we all feel in our lives can act a lot like this fire. On the one hand, stress can be like a good fire. A campfire can keep you warm and can be fun to watch. Even some forest fires are healthy for the environment. Similarly, not all stress is bad. Some stress is actually good for us. It can be motivating, keeps us moving and acting on what is important. But, on the other hand, stress can also be like a bad fire. It can rage out of control, burning faster and hotter than you want.
The environment around a fire matters for how the fire acts. When there is containment and when the weather is cool and humid, the fire stays put. It doesn’t grow fast and, in fact, it might be a little hard to get things to burn. But when things are hot, dry, and windy, the fire can burn out of control.
Consider how the environment of your life impacts your stress. Here are some “environmental factors” that can increase your stress:
Limited social support or isolation
Few opportunities to feel productive
Catastrophic or other types of anxious thoughts
To help keep the stress fire contained try to enhance some of these helpful environmental factors in your life:
Prioritize rest and sleep (7-9 hours each 24 hours).
Spend time with others who are supportive and enjoyable to be around
Seek out ways to accomplish something specific each day. Pay attention to your accomplishments, no matter how big or small they are.
Build your positive self-regard and self-compassion. Evaluate negative thoughts you have about yourself and work to build a supportive relationship with yourself.
Practice awareness of your thoughts and how those are impacting your reactions and emotions.