On National Stress Awareness Day I’m sharing some thoughts about the stresses we experience and the effect that has on our lives.
To start with, here’s the (very basic) science bit… you’ve probably heard of the ‘fight or flight’ response? It’s what happens in our bodies when we’re under threat – we don’t think about it, it just happens. So if you see a crouching lion over there, in a split second your body will release hormones that help you to either run away super fast or to fight, (probably not much chance of succeeding with that strategy with a lion though).
We also respond in this physiological way to every day experiences of ‘threat’ – the traffic jam that’s making us late for work, speaking out in front of a group of people, the risk of losing our jobs, family members doing things that are dangerous. For some people at some times in their lives it can just feel like one stress on top of another, and the instinctive stress response happens again and again, playing havoc with their bodies and their minds. At these times a person can experience palpitations, dizziness, high blood pressure, hyperventilating, digestive upsets, feel exhausted and be prone to other ailments. They might become more emotionally volatile, feeling tearful or angry, maybe overindulging in alcohol, smoking, drugs, caffeine, or withdrawing from family, other social contacts, or work.
Whilst we can’t make all the stresses disappear, there are some steps people can take to make a difference to their experience of life’s stresses:
Try to find out what’s causing your stress
Sounds simple, but sometimes it’s difficult to pinpoint which is the particular aspect of a situation that’s causing you the biggest problem. Maybe you need a friend to talk this over with, or to sit down with a pen and paper and make some lists, or use a ‘spidergram’ to put the issue in the middle, e.g. work, and then make as many legs to the spider as you need, to identify all the different parts that are contributing to the stress.
Make small changes, a step at a time
When problems seem overwhelming it’s often because we are thinking globally, e.g. I hate my work, it’s all awful. Take a specific element of it (by using the ‘spidergram’ approach) and give it a stress level from zero to 10 – and ask yourself what would move it just one number nearer zero. Maybe you can start with just that one small change.
Look after yourself – part one
Treats! This doesn’t mean fattening chocolates or a big whisky! Maybe it’s putting on your pyjamas in the middle of the evening and watching a favourite programme before bed, maybe spending an evening out with a good friend, or going to the park with your kids on a sunny day – whatever you enjoy, make a window of time for it in your life.
Look after yourself – part two
For some people this is a real challenge, but no one needs telling that enough sleep, a healthy diet and some exercise are great for body and mind. So again, it’s small steps, one change is better than none. It’s not meant to be a stick to beat yourself with, or another thing to make you feel a failure, so try to choose things you can enjoy and can achieve.
Talk to someone
Who can you share your experiences with? Who will listen and get it? Being heard and understood is a very restorative experience. It could be a family member or friend who you can share your feelings with, and of course it could be a counsellor – someone outside of your regular life who can listen with acceptance and empathy, and help you to explore the possibilities of doing things differently.
I hope you have a good day.
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