Stress and how to deal with it
When our mechanisms to cope with a situation are exceeded, then we feel stress. This is not the same as pressure or challenge. You can have pressure or challenge and do well out of it. For instance, with an achievable deadline to meet, your adrenaline flows and you may be energised and do better as a result. However, expressions such as “a healthy degree of stress is good” should be challenged as they are actually a sloppy use of language. We wouldn't say that a bridge put under stress was a good thing, because this would suggest that it had been put under the pressure of more traffic than it was designed to handle, which would be a very dangerous thing, likely to lead to disaster. Stress is an abnormal, not a normal, load – it is damaging for a bridge, and for humans it's bad for the body, mind and soul.
Sometimes stress can build up gradually over a period of time until we find we reach overload, at other times it can be one or two really bad events in close succession that immediately take us into that feeling of overload.
The modern world has many stressors and is, perhaps, a particularly challenging place for younger people as many current issues can seem to stretch out indefinitely into the future. We live in what could easily be termed the 'age of anxiety'. Everytime we switch on our televisions, some huge uncertainty, disaster of problems seem to be happening, and these problems seem to take on many forms. In addition, workplaces have become more difficult, with the pressures of efficiency in these financially limited times causing managers to adopt increasingly task orientated methods, rather than balancing that out with the needs of the team and the individual. Wages are held down, housing is expensive, companies seem to want their staff to do more in less time and demand their loyalty whilst giving very little of that back in return. It's an employer's market for sure, and that often means that the psychological welfare of staff is a low priority – if company literature states it as a priority, it can quickly become apparent that this is just window dressing in order to create a false sense of security and to look good to outsiders.
There may be people around us who seem more stressed than us, or less so. This needn't be just about how different people are able to deal with common things they are facing. Ability to deal with stress can differ within a single individual at different times and within a group of people, and it can depend on several factors – personality, upbringing, recent events, relationships away from the situation, environment, health, perception of what is threatening, the different ways we are treated by others. Some people may also add to their own stressors by being overly perfectionist or by fearing failure or success.
How do we react to stress?
Some common reactions can be:
- physically tension
- tight chest
- increased pulse
- wobbly tummy
- difficulty sleeping
- lack of libido
- skin conditions
The more intense the situation is, the more the above issues can affect us.
We can also get stressed about being stressed, so that the stress feeds on itself and goes around in a never ending spiral.
What can we do about stress?
Some of the following ideas will be relevant to some people in some situations and not others, but there will probably be something here for everyone:
- Exercise to release tension.
- Learn and avoid your triggers – for instance learning to say "no", keeping away from certain people and situations.
- If possible (and it might not be) reframe the situation - for instance, instead of thinking of it as a threat, think of it as an opportunity.
- Concentrate on more positive matters or the bigger picture - which might well be rosier than the specific stressor.
- Watch a favourite comedy – laughter is very good for relieving tension.
- Have more sex – which is also an excellent tension reliever.
- Try to get more sleep (and if this is difficult, look at taking naps when possible).
- Eat and drink better – avoid caffeine, drink alcohol sparingly and wisely.
- Take time out – even if it's just to sit and breathe.
- Talk to someone you trust.
- Look at images or listen to music that reminds you of a favourite place or person.
- Practise mindfulness – the art of being in the moment with whatever you are doing.
- Find some me time to follow a hobby or start one you've always wanted to try.
- Work smarter not harder.
- Find a positive mantra to repeat when entering a stressful situation - for instance, "I can do this".
- Accept those things that you can't change and try to change those that you can change.
- Do something that requires repetition – painting a wall can be very therapeutic if you are stressed.
- Do something artistic or creative to release a different type of energy.
If you tend to imagine the worst or think negatively, challenge this. You can say to yourself, "there I go again, imagining it will be a disaster, when it will probably just be difficult".
Learn to start becoming aware and noticing when you get stressed. Catch your bodily reactions as you get stressed and allow them rather than fight them - "I am feeling stressed. That's ok. That's to be accepted in the circumstances". This can have a lot of power in defusing the stress.
Going to counselling
If you are going through a stressful situation or time, sharing that with a neutral trained listener can be very helpful and help you to start to unburden yourself of it.
Counselling can help to investigate and discover the causes of your stress. When you understand yourself better, you can start to deal with situations better too.
A counsellor will help you look at options for change and growth, and for coping with current or future situations.