Unfortunately, stress is a normal part of life. It is said that the only place where you don’t experience stress is when you’re 6ft under. So, I guess the positive of experiencing stress is that we are alive …
Stress is a part of our daily life and can be triggered by anything from sleeping through our alarm clocks to buying and moving into our new homes or, having a baby. Stress only becomes a problem when it’s long term or severe. For example, caring for a sick relative, prolonged divorce procedures or financial issues. Stress can also become a problem when we use choose to cope which makes stress our situation worse ( maladaptive coping strategies).
We can manage stress in many different ways. Some can be helpful, others can be hurtful and have a detrimental effect on our mental health.
In this post, we will review different ways to manage stress, including how we view the situation ( appraisals), relaxation techniques ( somatic quieting), and reaching out to our friends, family, and others for social support.
Let’s start at the beginning and look at what we mean by stress.
The official definition of stress is ‘a highly orchestrated response to a perceived threat or challenge that is biological, affects our behaviour, thoughts and emotions.’ Therefore, things that stress us can be real or imagined. Have you ever stressed yourself by just thinking about a hypothetical event, something that never happened or, might never happen?
Health-related signs of stress
As I said above, stress can affect our biology and harm our health. You may find you have symptoms such as:
- extreme tiredness.
- Inability or difficulty concentrating
- fast, disorganized thoughts.
- difficulty sleeping.
- digestive problems.
- changes in appetite ( eating more or less).
Look out for these signs and contact your doctor if you notice any of the symptoms.
Features of stress
Now, let’s look at a few other features of stress. First, we start with duration, is the stress short term (acute) or long (chronic). Acute stress generally gives us energy and focus to deal with the stress or challenge we face ( think about taking a test or exam). However, chronic long term stress can be harmful to our overall well being. Chronic stress can cause wear and tear on our bodies ( by the biological stress response) and usually occurs when we are faced with things that won’t or can’t change.
Chronic stress generally falls under these categories:
- – Emotional stress (difficult emotions such as anger, sadness, or frustration)
- – Environmental stress (where you live and work)
- – Relationship stress (how you relate to friends, family, co-workers, partners)
- – Work stress (challenges and pressures related to your job)
Reacting to stress
A helpful way of looking at stressful situations is by observing our thoughts and our behaviours.
When looking at our thoughts we should think about how we view the situation. We should ask ourselves whether there is another way to view the situation.
Our behaviours are important in regards to stress in two important ways. First, our behaviour might make us more or less likely to experience stress. Second, once the stressor has passed we may engage in helpful ( adaptive) or hurtful (maladaptive) behaviours as a way of coping.
The stress test
Before we move on to the next stage let’s take a moment to take a basic stress assessment. This will give you a good idea of the stress in your life.
The 5 questions below will assess the frequency, cause, duration, impact and how you cope with the stressor.
Take some time to answer these questions:
- How often have you felt nervous or stressed out in the past 30 days?
- What has been causing you to feel stressed out? Is there anything else (smaller issues disturbing your peace)? Remember, multiple stressors can occur at the same time.
- How long has this been going on? Is the stressor chronic ( long term) or acute ( short term). This question aims to find out the duration of the stress.
- How has this stress been affecting you? How has it affected your relationships or your performance at work? Have there been any other effects?
Here, think about weight gain, more accidents/ clumsiness ( I was so stressed recently I forgot to put the handbrake on my car properly and my car rolled down the hill and into another car, while I was at the gym!)
- What have you been doing to cope with this stressful situation? These are your coping behaviours. How well has that been working for you? How can others help you? How can you elicit help from people in your social support network?
I hope you found this assessment helpful.
Did you find anything interesting when taking the assessment?
Feel free to put your comments in the box below and I will try to help.
In the next blog, we will look at the opposite of the stress response, the relaxation response.
Take care of yourselves