Stress is an everyday occurrence, but when there is prolonged stress it can affect physical and mental wellbeing. Stress is often viewed as ‘that word’ and all the negatives associated with it…juggling family commitments, business deadlines, financial constraints, and stretching ourselves too thinly across a number of areas in our demanding lives. On the positive side, stress can be a motivator for prioritizing and creative task management; to push ourselves in reaching our full potential.
As long as the gap between perceived ability to cope and demands of the task is not too overwhelming.
It is important to identify between good and bad stress, and to use them to your advantage.
Good Stress is for survival and part of our ancestral legacy. Such stress is referred to as “Eustress” which stimulates us to get things done. By adding fuel to the fire and keeping our thoughts in response mode we are ready to meet the challenges of everyday life.
Bad Stress is when we become overwhelmed by the tasks and demands confronting us. By adopting negative coping strategies such as too much caffeine, alcohol, and drugs we enter the area of distress and potential burnout. As a result of bad choices in coping strategies and elongated periods of stress, we may also end up with anxiety, high blood pressure, loss of sleep, unforeseen aggression and so many other psychological and physical symptoms.
Optimal Stress is where we maintain a healthy balance between keeping busy “Eustress” and overworking “Distress” and reaching peak performance without suffering as a consequence.
It is probably timely to look more closely at the types of stress, symptoms and causes of stress.
Types of Stress:
- Eustress – the good stress which comes from facing challenges in a positive way where we are excited and motivated to reach optimal performance.
- Acute Stress – this is where stress is experienced for a small period and related to a specific situation.
- Episodic Acute Stress – This is where there is a cumulative effect of one thing after the other and it becomes harder to recover.
- Chronic Stress – Where pressures and demands are ongoing over a long period of time with perceived little chance to initiate recovery. This type of stress can be damaging to your physical/psychological wellbeing, emotional health and relationships.
Symptoms of Stress:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Angry / irritable
- Teary / moody
- Anxiety / Depression
- Concentration problems
- Lower confidence / Self esteem
- Aches and pains
- Diarrhoea, stomach upset
- Disturbed sleep
- High Blood Pressure
- Weakened immune system
- Muscle tension
- Change in sex drive
- Alcohol, drug abuse
- Outbursts of anger
- People avoidance
- Social/relationship difficulties
- Over/under eating
- Frustration, confusion, giddiness
- Lethargy, lack of interest, loss of appetite
Causes of Stress:
The circumstances leading to stress (stressors) affect people in a host of different ways. What affects one person may not necessarily affect another.
The major causes of stress include…
• Trauma – life threatening events or violent situations. While most people recover, some go on to develop PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)
• Routine stress – this is everyday life stress around work, parenting etc.
• Major life events – both the negative and positive events experienced in life – marriage, having children and parenting, illness, death in the family, divorce.
• Other factors – depending on the degree of difficulty experienced include…
financial difficulties, personal health concerns, family and workplace issues.
“Maturity is achieved when a person accepts life is full of tension.” – Joshua L. Liebman
20 Tips on Accepting and Managing Stress
1. Learn to recognise and monitor stressors.
Identify the stress triggers that affect you on a daily basis. Pay attention to the warning signs which may include irritability, muscle tension and tiredness. Come up with an action plan for handing stressful situations.
2. Put together a step-by-step coping plan.
By being pro-active you will feel more in control. Make a list of the important things or tasks you need to deal with on a daily basis. Try to follow the list so you stay on top of demands. Remember to keep your expectations realistic and outcomes achievable.
3. Change the stressor.
There may be some stressors that are beyond your control, whilst there are others that you can do something about. For example, if you are experiencing stress in the workplace, you may be able to alter your job duties, location or hours. Sometimes we need to be creative in our plan of action. If you are unsure how to go about resolving this issue, discuss it with someone whose opinion you value possibly in the same or related field and who can be objective.
4. Start keeping a daily stress journal.
By keeping a journal the benefits are fourfold. One, you identify how much stress you are under. Two, you start to recognise the stress triggers. Three, you begin to think about constructive ways of addressing the stress in your life. Four, over time you begin to identify a pattern which will help you to circumvent some stresses and also identify healthy management practices to minimise future stressors.
“There are thousands of causes for stress, and one antidote to stress is self-expression. That’s what happens to me every day. My thoughts get off my chest, down my sleeves and onto my pad.” – Garson Kanin
5. Learn to say no without feeling guilty.
We all have a limit to what we can achieve responsibly and effectively.
Not only will ‘No’ empower you but it will also ensure people respect your boundaries, appreciate your time and that your availability is not limitless nor to be taken for granted. Remember to be firm but polite. If this idea seems foreign then practice saying ‘No’ in the mirror which will help you gain confidence. Another thing, don’t explain why you are saying no – explanations are subject to requirement.
6. Organisation is the name of the game.
There is nothing more frustrating than being disorganised. Set into place filing systems, boxes, de-clutter and keep a diary. Establish routines that help you stay on top of tasks.
7. Plan leisure activities into your life. Reward yourself daily.
Ever heard the expression “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy?” It is important to gain some perspective and relief from the daily grind of work and commitments. Additionally, it helps to have something to look forward to. Your ‘treats’ and time out from daily demands don’t always have to be big. It can be the little things that add a little sweetness to your life.
“There must be quite a lot of things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.” – Sylvia Plath
8. Exercise is great for relieving stress.
By incorporating exercise into your routine (be it daily or twice weekly), your heart and lungs will thank you for it. Ideally, exercising for a minimum of three days per week for 15-30 minutes will be most beneficial. However, any exercise is better than none. In the process of exercising you release endorphins into your body which promote positive health and wellbeing.
9. Time out – rest yourself.
There is only so much that the body and mind can absorb at one time. By having regular breaks, say 10 minutes every hour, you will recharge your body and mind. Find somewhere quiet, or enjoy a natural setting such as a park or your backyard. Rest your eyes and allow the quiet to wash over you. Feel the breeze on your skin, the warm sunshine and listen to the sounds around you. When possible indulge in 7-8 hours of restful sleep each night.
10. Concentrate on breathing and positive thoughts.
Introduce relaxation techniques and activities that will help lower stress levels. Consider meditation, listening to your favourite music, yoga, tai chi, cycling, dancing or walking to bring about body awareness and breath control. Make this time enjoyable and remember to communicate with friends and loved ones.
11. You are what you eat.
This is not just about weight control but rather the importance of maintaining good nutrition. A balanced diet includes meat, vegetables, fruit and avoiding foods high in fat and sugar. By limiting caffeine, alcohol and processed foods our bodies are able to work efficiently to ensure sustained energy throughout the day.
12. Check the environmental causes.
We live in a stressful world where we are experiencing unprecedented demands of our talents, time and energy. It is essential that we recognise the negative and positive social/environmental impact on our lives. By controlling who and what surrounds us, we are better able to manage stress and seek the support that is needed to help us through the daily challenges that confront us all. Be a gate-keeper to your personal health and wellbeing.
Be selective so that your environment at work, home, leisure are in line with your personal needs and desires.
13. Monitor your health
Be aware of distress signals that may mean you’re heading for troubled waters. Symptoms may include headaches, insomnia, anxiety, lack of concentration, excessive tiredness, colds/flu, loss of appetite, over-eating.
Remember, these signs may mean that something else might possibly be going on which may require medical attention. For example, hypertension, heart disease, high blood pressure, ulcers etc.
14. Introduce and practice positive self talk.
Acknowledge and celebrate the individual that you are. Eliminate destructive self talk such as…”I’m too old…,” “I’m too fat…,” “I haven’t the skills…”
Focus on your strengths and the positives in your life.
15. Become more assertive.
You are in charge of your own destination in life. By dealing with challenges head on, you will begin to be more assertive and focused on the priorities in your life.
16. Be open to compromise.
By being flexible we open ourselves up to the potential and possibilities that exist around us. The middle ground rather than the extreme right or left offer us opportunities to act without setting ourselves up for a fall.
17. Express yourself.
Rather than bottling up your feelings, if someone is bothering you, communicate your concerns in an open and respectful manner. By remaining quiet and not voicing your feelings, resentment will set in and frustration will escalate. Nothing can change unless you begin to communicate effectively.
18. Consider the big picture.
Take some perspective to the issue or situation at hand. Now ask yourself just how important this issue will be in the long run. Is it worth being upset over? What are the chances of it being a concern in a month or in a year?
Focus your energy, attention and time on something else which will be more productive.
19. Keep your sense of humour.
Foster the ability to laugh at yourself. The act of laughing at yourself and seeing the humour in events or situations around you helps your body to fight stress in very effective ways.
20. Respect yourself and learn to forgive.
By accepting that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes, we will not be so judgemental of ourselves. By moving on we continue to respect ourselves and others as we all journey through this world of joy and tribulation. The choice of the terrain is ours alone as it depends on our attitude to challenges that arise.
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” – Marcus Aurelius