Pressure and the stress that may arise from it are becoming more prevalent within modern life. It is our response to being under pressure and it affects our behaviour, our feelings and our likelihood of becoming ill. Stress affects everyone differently, and some level of pressure can be desirable as it provides the stimulus which keeps us going. However, when pressure becomes excessive, it leads to mental and physical fatigue. Action is then necessary to restore control.
Stress can result from events getting out of hand. Some of these are major events such as bereavement, loss of employment, marital separation and house moves. Sometimes, stress results from an accumulation of more minor events with one particular event contributing to an acute stress episode.
The early warning signs
Learn to recognise the early warning signs of stress. They can be physical or mental - here are lists of the commonest signs:
- headaches, tiredness
- indigestion, diarrhoea
- palpitations, sleeping difficulties, chest pains
- intolerance, irritability, poor memory, lack of concentration
- loss of motivation
- crying unexpectedly
- over reacting, difficulty in relaxing, feeling nervous
How do you currently cope with pressure?
How do you manage and cope with pressure that causes stress in your life? Are your coping strategies unhealthy or healthy, helpful or unproductive? Use the stress journal described below to help you to identify the ways that you can currently cope with stress.
Unhealthy ways of coping with stress, include;
Using pills or drugs to relax
Drinking too much alcohol
Sleeping too much
Bingeing on junk or comfort food
Zoning out for hours in front of the TV or computer
Filling up every minute of the day to avoid facing problems
Withdrawing from friends, family and activities
Taking out your stress on others (lashing out, angry outbursts, violence)
Healthier ways to manage stress?
Start a stress journal
A stress journal can help you identify the regular stressors in your life and the way you deal with them. Each time you feel stressed; write it down in the journal. As you keep the daily log, you may begin to see patterns and common themes. Write down:
- What caused your stress (make a guess if you are unsure)
- How you felt, both physically and emotionally
- How you acted in response
- What did you did to make yourself feel better
Take regular exercise
You do not have to spend hours in the gym to benefit from exercise. Try to start walking with a view of keeping going for at least 10 minutes. Your maim aim is to get yourself moving. You will be surprised by how much a short 10 minute burst of activity can make you break out in a sweat and help relieve stress. Here are some easy ways:
- Put on some music and dance
- Take your dog for a walk
- Ditch the car - Walk or cycle to the grocery store
- Use the stairs at home
- Play with your children – take them to the park.
It is a common myth that you should not venture out of the house if you are absent from work. Modern stress management guidance supports the notion of physical activity, exercise and exposure to the outside world to help you to effectively manage you stress, assisting the mind and body will relax and promote a deep and refreshing sleep.
Adopt a healthy lifestyle
In addition to regular exercise, there are other healthy lifestyle choices that can increase your resistance to stress.
- Eat a healthy diet – well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress.
- Reduce caffeine and sugar – The temporary “highs” that caffeine and sugar provide often end with a crash in mood and depleated energy. You may even sleep better.
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes and drugs – self medicating with alcohol, or drugs may provide an easy escape from stress, but the relief is only temporary. Don`t avoid or mask the issue at hand. Deal with the problems head on and with a clear body and mind.
- Get enough sleep. Adequate sleep fuels your mind, as well as your body. Feeling tired will increase your stress because it may cause you to think irrationally.
Social engagement is the quickest, most efficient way to improve stress. It can help you to avoid overreacting to internal or external events that you perceive as threatening. Communicating with someone who makes you feel safe and understood is a helpful way of calming you down and can put the brakes on the `fight or flight` stress response even if you are not able to alter the stressful situation itself.
Here are some ways to reach out and build relationships:
- Reach out to a colleague at work
- Help someone else by volunteering
- Have coffee or lunch with a friend
- Ask a loved one to check in with you regularly
- Call or email an old friend
- Go for a walk with a workout buddy
- Meet new people by taking a class or joining a club
Avoid unnecessary stress
Whilst stress is an automatic response from your nervous system, some stressors arise at predictable times – your commute to work, a meeting with a working colleague, family gatherings, for example. When handling these predictable stressors, you can either change the situation or change your reaction. It is helpful to think of the four A`s: Avoid, Alter, Adapt or Accept when deciding on which option to choose in any given scenario.
Avoid the stressor
Learn how to say “no”- know your limits and stick to them
Avoid people who stress you out – limit time you spend with them
Take control of your environment – if you feel stress, change where you are
Alter the situation
Express your feelings instead of bottling them up
Be willing to compromise – if you ask someone to change meet them half way. You`ll have a good chance of finding happiness.
Manage your time better – poor time management causes lots of stress. Plan ahead, but don’t over extend yourself.
Adapt to the stressor
Reframe problems – Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective.
Look at the bigger picture - Take perspective of the stressful situation. Will it matter in a month? A year? Is it really getting upset over? If the answer is no, focus time and energy elsewhere.
Adjust your standards - Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. Stop setting yourself up to fail. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others and learn to happy with “good enough”
Accept what you cannot change
Don’t control the uncontrollable – there are things in life beyond your control, for example; behaviour of other people. Focus on the things you can control, such as the ways you choose to react.
Look for the upside to a situation - When facing challenges; try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth. If your own poor choices contributed to a stressful situation, reflect and learn from your mistakes.
Learn to forgive – accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and people make mistakes. Let go of anger and resentment by forgiving and moving on.
Make time of fun and relaxation
Whilst it is important to use a “take-charge approach” and develop a positive attitude, it is important to look after yourself and make regular time for fun and relaxation. Set aside relaxation time to include rest and relaxation within your daily schedule. Do not allow other obligations to encroach. It is important to make time to take a break for yourself and recharge your batteries.
Do something you enjoy for at least 10 minutes of every day. You will find that by setting out to start something you enjoy, it is surprising how the time flies by and you may notice that you have spent more than 10 minutes.
Keep your sense of humour including the ability to laugh at yourself. The act of laughing provides excellent short and long term emotional and physical benefits that aids to soothe tension, stimulate many vital organs, relieve pain and improve your immune system.
Adapted from: Robinson, L, Smith, M and Segal, R (2015) Stress Management – How to reduce, prevent and cope with stress. Available at http://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/stress-management.htm accessed January 2016