When we say to ourselves or others “I’m feeling stressed”, we are usually talking about feeling overwhelmed, pressured, feeling physically tense and ‘wound up’, and maybe also worrying about a negative outcome happening, for instance if we don’t meet that deadline.
The fact is that stress is an everyday event for most of us. Stress is any change or demand that you must adapt to, ranging from having to be at work on time or getting less sleep than we need, to experiencing a relationship breakdown, or any other major crisis in our lives.
With the help of a psychologist you can learn techniques and change behaviours to manage stress more effectively using a variety of approaches:
- Body awareness, relaxation strategies, and meditation address physiological symptoms.
- Cognitive therapy tools address the unhelpful thinking which often arises from and maintains unhelpful reactions to stressors.
- Problem solving, assertiveness, goal setting and time management address the environmental sources of stress head on.
- Lifestyle changes help with recovery and relapse prevention.
Working on changing your core beliefs can help you understand the reasons why you may have reacted to stressors in a self-defeating way, and to change these life patterns.
When is stress a problem?
If we experience a short term stressful event, the brain triggers a series of changes in the body known as the “fight-flight” response. These include changes that may sound familiar to you – increase heart rate and breathing rate, muscle tension, and maybe even experiencing ‘butterflies’ in the stomach. These are normal physical changes that occur to help us deal with a challenging situation.
When stress is ongoing, or we experience one stressful event after another with little time to recover, we may start to experience symptoms like moodiness, sleep disturbance, stomach upset, anxiety, anger and irritability, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and feeling constantly overwhelmed, ‘burned out’, or low in confidence. This is when it begins to affect our lives.
What can I do to manage stress myself?
Learning how to manage stress is most important for both your physical and mental health. Fortunately, there are a number of helpful techniques that are simple and you can start applying right away; for instance identifying and changing behaviours that contribute to stress, and also reducing stress when it is happening. Below there are some examples:
- Identify your own stress warning signs – we are all different, and everyone has one or two key signs that they are stressed, this could be a racing mind, tensing shoulders or some other warning sign. Get good at checking in with yourself when you are stressed and learn your own body’s warning signs.
- Identify the sources of stress and where possible remove them or reduce their frequency or impact, eg. getting more sleep, eating better, taking on less work.
- Learn to anticipate normal triggers to stress, start noticing them in your life, make a list, and then next time one is about to occur you can anticipate it and ready yourself with some relaxation or calming ‘self talk’.
- Establish routines in your day – plan your day out ahead of time, have a set bed and waking time, eat well and regularly.
- Talk about it with friends and family, share your feelings and thoughts.
- Spend time with positive people.
- Watch what you say to yourself – instead of predicting the worst case scenario think – “what else might happen?, is that just as or even more likely?”, instead of telling yourself you can’t cope, tell yourself – “I am coping here, and I’ve coped with difficult things before”.