Stress is your emotional and physical response to pressure and happens when you feel unable to cope. Many people lead demanding lives and stress can arise from life events, illness, living conditions, work, relationships, and money worries. in fact the list is endless because people have different ways of reacting to and coping with stress. A situation which is overwhelming for one person, may not concern someone else in the same way. Even those events which you see as enjoyable can be stressful, such as holidays, moving house, starting a new job or course, pregnancy, parenthood, and family get togethers like Christmas.
When you are constantly under pressure, the stress hormones remain in your body, leading to the symptoms that let you know you feel stressed. It’s important to recognise these symptoms early and prevent serious health issues such as high blood pressure. Everyone gets stressed from time to time – it’s a natural reaction to a threat or danger or prolonged pressure, so it’s a biological part of all of us. However, what is important is how you choose to manage stress. Some people adopt unhealthy coping strategies such as comfort eating, drinking alcohol or smoking which take a further toll on health. There are simple things you can do to give yourself a sense of control and help you to cope in a healthy way.
The first step is to identify what makes you stressed:
- Where am I when I’m feeling stressed? What am I doing? Who am I with?
Even if there is little you can do about some situations, making some small changes can make a big difference. In stressful situations remember to Pause, Take a breath, and Don’t just react automatically. Ask yourself:
- What am I reacting to?
- Is it helpful for me to think this way?
- What is within my control?
- Is there another way of looking at this?
- How important is this really? How important will it be in 6 months time?
- What is the most helpful way to respond for me and others?
I see many clients who are struggling with stress and anxiety in their lives. Common to all of them is the lack of knowledge or skills for controlling these feelings. There are lots of tips and tricks for helping you keep stress levels under control:
- Deal with problems as they happen. Bottling up your feelings allows them to grow until they overflow
- Slow down. You don’t have to do things at 100 miles an hour. Eat, walk and drive more slowly. If you don’t get as much done as you would like, there is always tomorrow. Act ‘as if’ you are relaxed: slow down your speech, relax your shoulders, and don’t fidget. This will also affect how other people will react to you
- Do one thing at a time. If you have too much to do and can see no way to cope with it, see if you can divide it up and then tackle the bits one at a time. Prioritise and then do the worst thing first
- The words ‘must’ and ‘should’ create pressure. Work out what you can realistically cope with and be content with this. You don’t have to be Superman/Wonder Woman
- If people expect too much of you, you don’t have to accept their targets. Learn to be more assertive and say ‘No’
- Stress can make you hard to live with and create problems with those close to you. Nurture strong, confident relationships which give you people to confide in and help you fight stress
- Talk to someone – if you don’t have a supportive relationship or someone to confide in, there are lots of professional therapists who specialise in helping people with stress
- Treat yourself as you would a good friend. What advice would you give?
- Help others – people who help others become more resilient themselves. This can be as simple as doing someone a small favour that costs nothing
- Shift your perspective by noticing what you have to be grateful for. Problems are often a question of perspective
- Write down your thoughts and feelings – get them out of your head
- Accept that there are things in life you can’t change – people get ill, people die, people lose jobs. Bad things happen and everyone has to learn to accept them as a part of life. Focus on the things you can control instead
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet and cut down on high sugar foods such as cakes, biscuits and sweets which may fuel anxiety
- Caffeine can make you feel alert but the effects of too much are the same as those of stress and anxiety. Caffeine is a stimulant that affects the brain and central nervous system. It can be found in: coffee, tea, Coke, Fanta, aspirin, cold remedies, headache tablets, energy tablets, drinks like Pro-Plus and Red Bull and even in chocolate at a low level
- Stay hydrated by drinking more fresh, clean water
- Some people believe that smoking helps them relax, but nicotine is a stimulant. The reported relaxation effect of smoking is nothing more than deep breathing when you inhale. Practice the breathing but lose the cigarettes
- Make some time for relaxation, fun and enjoyment. If you think you don’t have time for this – you need it the most!
- Learn Mindful Breathing (see my blog on ‘3 Quick Relaxation Exercises’)
- Listen to music – sing and dance along to something upbeat, or relax to something calming and emotion-free
- Physical exercise – get active even if you just go for a walk. Doing something physical completes the stress cycle and allows those stress hormones to dissipate, so you feel better
- Get out in nature to feel uplifted – go to the park or for a walk in the countryside
- Find a hobby or interest that gives you a sense of achievement – adult colouring books or doodling zentangles are great for feeling creative. Don’t know what they are? Look it up. Challenge yourself with something new
- And finally….RELAX! Do some deep abdominal slow breathing or listen to my free 10 minutes Relaxation track on http://www.mindmakeoveruk.com to instantly feel a little better
I am Susan Tibbett, a Chartered Psychologist and Hypnotherapist based in York. I can be reached via my website at: http://www.mindmakeoveruk.com