We all know that stress is just part of life, but sometimes it becomes overwhelming, and we need support managing it. Stress releases hormones (adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol) which, while they are very useful in helping us to deal with an immediate threat, are damaging if they are constantly released into the body. Repeated exposure to stress leads to the risk of physical conditions like heart disease, angina, diabetes, ulcers, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. Stress also lowers the immune system making the stress sufferer more vulnerable to physical illness. Stress can lead to mental health problems like depression, anxiety and paranoia and stressed people function way below their best and have difficulty deriving real pleasure from their leisure pursuits. Clearly, it’s not a good idea to live in a state of stress.
Step 1. – Recognising stress
You might think it’s easy to recognise stress both in yourself and others, but sometimes it can be difficult to pinpoint, especially if it’s a fairly constant state. Here are some of the warning signs that stress could be becoming a problem. Clearly, some of the symptoms on this list are severe, and if you have concerns you should seek appropriate medical help.
|At work, difficulty with
- Punctuality (being consistently late or early)
- Learning new tasks
- Relaxing with others
- Taking responsibility
- Prioritising tasks
- Managing conflicts and arguments
- Making decisions
- Working too many or too little hours
- Withdrawn from others
- Making negative or cynical comments
- Irritable and moody
- Accident prone
- Excessive tiredness
- Inability to sleep
- Overuse of alcohol or drugs
- Severe worry
- Eating disorders
- Overeating or not eating enough
- Stomach ulcers
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Acute perspiration
- Muscle aches
- Lots of infections
- Hair loss
- Heart disease
Step 2. – Understanding stress
When you are experiencing stress, it can be helpful to take a step back and review what is happening in your life, what changes have taken place for you over the last few months and who is putting pressure on you. It is also important to check out how you are feeling about yourself, and how much pressure you are putting yourself under to achieve and complete everything.
- Identify the causes of your stress. What has been happening within work and outside the workplace? Have there been any significant changes in your life, either expected or unexpected? What has been the impact of those changes?
- Discuss the causes of your stress with a helpful person. Maybe your manager, friends, family or colleagues.
- Identify if you are contributing to your own stress. Do you have high expectations of yourself? Are you agreeing to do things that can be done by others?
There are times when we can’t control what is happening to us and stress is an inevitable consequence. At these times you need to introduce some healthy habits to manage yourself through the situation.
Step 3. Coping with stress
There are some actions and activities that you can do on a regular basis to balance the unpleasant consequences of stress. It is important that you identify healthy habits that work for you and your lifestyle. You might, for example:
- Take regular breaks, on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis
- Eat healthily, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
- Keep hydrated, without overusing caffeine or alcohol
- Explore relaxation techniques that work for you (e.g. deep breathing, muscle relaxation, visualisation exercises, relaxation CDs, yoga or meditation – including some of the breathing exercises available in this series.)
- Check that you have sufficient sleep for the amount of activity you have
- Reward and treat yourself
- Exercise regularly, doing something that you enjoy to encourage maximum release of feel good endorphins
Talking and Off-loading
One of the worst things to do when you are feeling stressed is to bottle it up. It may be hard to imagine how it can be helpful to talk to anyone, as you feel so out of control that once you start to talk you might not be able to stop. However, talking in a trusting, confidential relationship is helpful. Off-loading destructive, circular thoughts and feelings will help you feel calmer and more in control. It may be hard at first to pick up the phone or start the conversation, but this challenge to make the first move, to describe what is happening in your inner world and to put your thoughts and feelings into words will help you apply logic, context and rationale to your stress. Once you can talk and off-load, you can begin to think about self-help and solutions. You could talk to a friend, family member, colleague or even call a helpline, such as Mind-Matter’s Resilience Support Line, where you can speak to fully qualified counsellors 24/7.
Talking about your stress can help in other ways too, it can:
- Build confidence in dealing with the problem
- Identify recurring patterns of behaviour in yourself and others
- Release the urgency and panic associated with the situation
- Articulate thoughts you’ve been avoiding
- Develop a plan of action for managing the situation
Source adapted from: Validium