Stress is a combination of reactions that always includes anxiety. It may also include emotions such as depression, guilt, shame, fatigue. It can also effect you physically with things such as shakiness, changes in eating and sleeping habits and fatigue. Generally, there are two main types of stress. One is a response to major life events such as the ending of a long term relationship, or being sacked from work. The other is a longer term more insidious response to ongoing smaller “stressors” (pressures and difficulties in the environment) such as a boss who does not communicate well and has unrealistic expectations.
Fortunately, there are some effective ways of dealing with stress. The first step is to listen to your body and emotions and become aware of how stressed you really are. Ask yourself questions such as, have I been getting more headaches lately? Have I been more short tempered? Have I felt my heart racing and experienced sweaty palms of late?
Well now you know you are stressed off your dial, what can you do about it?
The mind and body are strongly connected, so being a bit physically healthier means you increase your resilience to, and deal more effectively with pressures. Often if we are unfit, have a poor diet, and perceive things in a certain way, we have a very low tolerance to dealing with stressors. People will often try and manage stress by using drugs or a few drinks more than normal. Getting into this cycle on a regular basis can in the medium term actually add to your stress. A better way of improving your condition can simply mean 30 minutes walking three times per week to increase the heart rate, and making sure the diet is balanced. It might also mean finding other ways to relax, such as having time out from everything and learning to really relax. This might include reading a magazine in the bath or having fortnightly massages. If you are not sleeping well, a good relaxation tape can relax you and distract you from the thoughts that are contributing to your stress.
You can also increase your emotional resilience to pressure and stressors. The next time you are feeling stressed, become aware of your anxiety levels. You might feel an increase in your heart rate, sweaty palms, feeling flushed or hot, or perhaps feeling a bit shaky. At this point, take a snapshot of what you are saying to yourself. It is probably along the lines of “the is terrible, I can’t stand this anymore, I can’t cope.” This can happen in many situations. This may include having yet another major re-structuring at work or putting up for the 568th time with the doona levitating as your partner mercilessly squeezes out yet another back-bottom burp.
We all have the capacity to ‘catastrophise’ a situation by blowing the drama of it all way out of proportion. When you have identified the thoughts that perpetuate your anxiety, challenge them. Ask yourself questions, “how is it that I actually can’t stand it? Will I die from this? How does it make sense that I can’t cope? Have I coped in the future? Will I have a nervous breakdown? Is it really “awful” and worse than bad? Compared with real major traumas and life threatening catastrophes, is it as bad as I’m telling myself? If you work hard and keep challenging these thoughts, perhaps even writing it on paper, it can make a vast difference. However, if there is a possibility that stress is a result of some sort of past trauma, it may be wise to talk to a counsellor/psychologist.
Other important ways of dealing with stress are effective communication with others to make sure emotional baggage does not accumulate, assertiveness, problem solving by looking at things from a different perspective, and a life-style that has allows you to do the things that are fulfilling and enjoyable. If you want to improve your resilience, The Centre for Human Potential offers a course held monthly to help build Resilience. Contact us now.
Clinical Psychologist Annabelle Young has extensive experience in working with people with depression, anxiety (including panic), adjustment difficulties, stress, trauma, PTSD, bipolar disorder, low self-esteem, grief and loss, interpersonal difficulties, as well as alcohol and drug use issues.