Stress is increasingly becoming an accepted part of everyday life. But stress can damage our physical and mental health and needs to be identified and managed.
Stress can reveal itself in many different ways: We may feel impatient, angry or agitated because our FIGHT stress response has been triggered. This may make us feel heated, anxious, overly emotional, and unable to sit still.
Alternatively we may develop a FLIGHT stress response: feeling withdrawn, depressed and with the need to pull away. This can lead to us having very little energy or showing little emotion.
It is also possible to be caught between these two responses in a FREEZE stress response. We may seem paralysed when we are under pressure but under the surface our feelings can be extremely agitated.
There are indicators which show us when stress is present and it’s a good idea to familiarise ourselves with these indicators in order to manage our stress levels, be healthier and ultimately happier in all areas of our lives.
- Showing poor judgement
- Memory problems and lack of concentration
- Seeing only the negative
- Constant worrying
- Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
- Loss of sex drive
- Diarrhoea or constipation
- Aches and pains
- Nausea, dizziness
- Feeling run down
- Irritability or short temper
- Agitation, inability to relax
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Sense of loneliness and isolation
- Depression or general unhappiness
- Unhealthy eating patterns (overeating, under eating, neglecting our diet)
- Isolating ourselves from friends, colleagues or family
- Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
- Nervousness, jumpiness
If you recognise these symptoms of stress, it is time to act!
Happily there are lots of things you can do to MANAGE and REDUCE your stress levels:
- Inform yourself – You have already taken the first steps by reading this article. The more you know about stress the easier it will be to cope. Caring for yourself gives you the strength that you need to be the best you can be. Stress can have serious health implications, so it is well worthwhile acting to reduce it.
- Establish a strong support network – There is still a British tradition for showing a ‘stiff upper lip’ and coping with things alone. Many of us feel we are expected to show strength and deal with things independently. Unfortunately this can have a huge impact on how unwell stress can make us: A strong network of supportive friends and family members can be an enormous buffer against life’s stressors.
- Feel in control – We cannot control everything in our lives but developing a feeling that we are coping with challenges is important. Building your personal confidence will improve your ability to cope with stress. Set yourself realistic goals and share your successes with friends in order to boost your confidence.
- Develop optimism – It is easy to develop a ‘glass half empty’ attitude to life. If you have done this, now is the time to shift your attitude to an optimistic outlook. Actively cultivate positive reactions and they will become habit.
- Improve your emotional stability – Stress leaves one very vulnerable and it is important to know how to calm and soothe oneself when feeling sad, angry, or overwhelmed by a situation. Meditation, mindfulness and re-connection with nature through walking in the park or countryside will give you the tools you need to improve your emotional stability. Having time to reflect enables us to develop a healthy perspective and promotes growth and wellbeing.
Stress management begins with identifying the sources of stress in your life and the underlying sources of stress are not always obvious.
It is all too easy to overlook our own stress-inducing thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. We may have learned stress inducing habits, so it is important to develop our self awareness if we are to combat stress.
Listen to yourself!
Look closely at your HABITS, ATTITUDES, and EXCUSES:
- Do you explain away stress as temporary even though you can’t remember a time in your life which was stress free?
- Do you define stress as an integral part of your work or home life, or as a part of your personality?
- Do you blame your stress on other people or outside events?
- Do you view stress as entirely normal and unexceptional?
Even if there are a plethora of external factors raising your stress levels, it is important to accept responsibility for the role you play in creating or maintaining stress. Your stress level will remain outside your control unless you get to know yourself better.
Keeping track of how often you suffer from stress; how you react to stress; where the stress came from; and how the stress manifested itself, will help your long term ability to manage and reduce stress.
Try asking yourself a few simple questions:
- What caused your stress?
- How did you feel physically?
- How did you feel emotionally?
- How did you act in response?
- Was another person involved?
- What did you do to make yourself feel better?
Keep your journal for a few weeks and notice any patterns or habits which you can work on or eliminate in order to reduce your stress.
Learn healthier ways to manage your stress.
If you have identified situations which increase or give rise to your stress, there may be courses of action you can take to AVOID the stressor, or ALTER the stressor. You may need to alter your reaction to the stressor by either ADAPTING to it or ACCEPTING it.
I believe that a whole-life approach to dealing with stress is the most beneficial. In my next article, I will outline a STRESS TOOL KIT to help you cope better with stress in your life. Mind offer more support and help in dealing with stress or talk to your GP to find out about help local to your area.
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