What is Stress?
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 you need to experience a relationship breakdown or any other major crisis in your life.
Some common external causes of stress include:
- major life events and life transitions, such as a death in the family or divorce
- family illness or health problems
- problems at work or school, financial issues or relationship issues.
Stress has mental and physical aspects. When you are stressed, your body releases stress hormones, such as adrenaline, to help your body respond to the stressor. This response is called ‘fight or flight’, a helpful way our bodies have adapted to respond to danger.
When is stress a problem?
If you 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 – increased 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 you experience one stressful event after another with little time to recover, you 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 stress leads you to burnout: a state of complete mental, physical and emotional exhaustion.
Symptoms of Burnout
Emotional burnout is exhausting. It can negatively impact your overall wellbeing, as well as your relationships. Some of the symptoms of burnout include:
- feeling exhausted, overwhelmed or unable to cope
- sleep issues
- headaches, muscle tension
- difficulty in performing basic tasks
- difficulty focusing or concentrating on tasks
- feeling empty and lack of emotion
- losing motivation in work, relationships and hobbies
- irritability, mood changes, anger
- relationships issues
- withdrawal from friends and family
- alcohol or other substance use to cope.
Treating Stress & Burnout
Recognising that you are burnt out is the first step to recovery.
Talking to people you trust is a great way to get started. Talking to someone can help you to start feeling better. You can also speak to a mental health professional like a GP or psychologist.
Psychologists can help you learn techniques and change behaviours to manage stress more effectively using a variety of approaches:
- Body awareness, relaxation strategies, and mindfulness can help you address physiological symptoms.
- CBT Therapy can help you address the unhelpful thinking which often arises from and maintains unhelpful reactions to stressors.
- Problem-solving, assertiveness training, goal-setting and time management can help you address the environmental sources of stress head-on.
- Lifestyle changes and regular exercise can also help you recover and prevent relapse.
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 simple helpful techniques, and you can start applying them right away; for instance, identifying and changing behaviours that contribute to stress and reducing stress when it happens. Below there are some examples:
- Identify your 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 warning sign. Get good at checking in with yourself when stressed and learn your body’s warning signs.
- Identify the sources of stress and, where possible, remove them or reduce their frequency or impact, e.g. getting more sleep, eating better, and taking on less work.
- Learn to anticipate normal triggers to stress, start noticing them in your life, make a list, and the next time one is about to occur, you can anticipate it and ready yourself with some relaxation or calming ‘self-talk’.
- Establish daily routines – plan your day, have a set bed and waking time, and eat well.
- Talk about it with friends and family, and 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”.