Stress is caused by our brains reaction to what we are experiencing or perceiving. If we perceive a threat or have a shock, we can react by experiencing stress. A little stress can be good for you like sharpening your nerves before a big interview. But, what can we do when we are experiencing stress that harms us or goes on and on?
First, we have to accept that anyone can experience stress and no-one is immune to the effects of stress. Stress can be brought on by many situations such as ongoing work demands, a divorce, bereavement, relationship problems, and exams. Stress can be related to one-off events or long-term situations.
How do we recognise stress?
Physical symptoms include: aches and pains, nausea, dizziness, chest pains, frequent shallow breathing, frequent colds
Mental & emotional symptoms include: worrying, anxiety, memory problems, racing thoughts, mood swings, tearfulness, irritability, depression
If you recognise some of these symptoms, you need to start seriously thinking about what you can do. The first thing to consider is to see your GP. They may recommend treatment for the stress, and they can rule out other causes.
What can you do about it?
There are many ways to deal with stress, and one or more of these may be effective for you:
- Relaxation: try to spend more time with friends and family, don’t isolate yourself; try a relaxing massage, aromatherapy or other treatment; take up meditation, pursue a hobby that is absorbing and helps you forget about things for a while
- Exercise: Taking regular exercise will reduce your stress levels and help you get fitter and healthier. Find time to do at least 4 sessions of 30 minutes moderate exercise a week. Do something that gets your heart pumping like swimming, cycling, or a fitness class. Or, try something new like fencing, Zumba, or cross-training
- Addressing the problem area: Some situations just won’t go away. If you have a stressful situation that persists, you need to sit down and have a long hard look at it. As yourself what it is about it that is stressful, what you think you can do about it, who can help you, and how you’d like things to be. Try to remember what brought you to that situation and is it still valuable to you today?
- Examine your boundaries: We all need healthy boundaries to function well. If these are threatened or eroded, stress can creep in. Take a look at your situation and consider whether it is meeting your requirements and expectations of it. If it isn’t, what is within your power to change that situation?
- Watch what you take in: Make sure you are not starting to eat too much to smother the difficult feelings stress brings about. Stick to a healthy diet to keep your energy levels up and keep you alert. Restrict your caffeine and alcohol intake, as these can aggravate stressful symptoms.
The long-term view
Many stressful situations are actually just one-off events and can be managed quite successfully. However, some stress, like ongoing work pressures or relationship problems, can be long-term. If this is the case for you, consider the following:
- Change your situation. It may seem difficult or even impossible to you right now, but the fact is that, any situation you get yourself into has a way out. If you feel hopelessly trapped, get help. There is always someone out there who can help you. It may mean changing job, training to get a new job, leaving an abusive partner. Remember, whatever the situation, it is unlikely to change on its own; you will have to make the change.
- Change your lifestyle. It may be that it is your habits that are causing you stress smoking, drinking, too much caffeine, staying out late at night, working too many hours. Habits can be tricky to change. You need to look beyond the habit itself and see what it is that is driving you to do it and what do you/ or think you get out of doing it? Chances are, it won’t be what you’re actually getting out of it. So, think honestly about what you really want and start to create a plan of how you can transition from the unhealthy habit to the healthy one.
- Get help. There are many people who are trained to help you learn to manage stress. There are books, magazines, websites, therapists, stress management trainers. If you need help managing stress, it’s as well to shop around. Take a look at different kinds of resources before you make the choice of which one you think can best help you. Remember, this needs to be able to put you in control of your situation, and give you the tools you need to manage the stress you experience.
I hope you’ve found this post helpful. If you have any stress management tips I haven’t covered, why not add them in the comments section below.