We all find ourselves saying “I’m stressed” or hear our family, friends or work colleagues saying the same. Stress is incredibly common, which is why it is hard to define or realise when it is happening to us. Generally speaking, stress is related to two main components:
1. One or more demanding situations or events that put us under pressure, such as:
a) external demands - having lots of things to do and think about or not having much control over what happens (e.g. work, money issues, family)
b) internal demands – the pressure we put on ourselves
(e.g. looking immaculate, getting the highest mark in a test)
2. Our reaction to being put under pressure – feeling that we don’t have enough personal, social or financial resources to deal with the demands that have been put on us and anticipating failure or a worst case scenario
Being under pressure is a normal part of life. In small manageable amounts, stress can be a useful driving force helping us to take action and get a job done. However, if someone experiences chronic stress especially if it is from different parts of their life they can become overwhelmed, experience a negative effect on their emotional well-being and begin to find it harder to tackle everyday tasks. When stress overwhelms someone it has the potential to lead to anxiety and/or depression.
So, how can you help stop Stress from taking over?
Given that stress is a normal part of everyday life, we have to accept it will always be in our lives. However, we do need to keep our levels of stress low, where possible, to maintain emotional well-being. Here are some ideas you can try:-
- Reduce the demands you are under – there are many stressors we can’t reduce, but there are certainly some we can. Try to assess what does and doesn’t matter – be ruthless with your to-do list. You can also prioritise your to-do list and work out what can wait until another day rather than feeling you have to do everything all at once
- Increase your coping abilities – more efficient management of the demands you can’t get rid of will help you to feel more in control and less overwhelmed. Try getting more organised (tidy up and file things away), make lists, break down big jobs into smaller ones and don’t avoid those jobs that fill you with dread, instead tackle them head on. If you can still detect that stress is around, then look towards your support network and ask for help or delegate some of your to-do list to other people
- Don’t put yourself under too much pressure – be aware of your own internal demands and the expectations you put on yourself. Don’t feel you have to live up to other people’s expectations of you either. For example, if you don’t have the time or interest in attending a party but feel you have to go because your friends are, try giving yourself permission to say “no” and wait to accept an invitation that brings you pleasure rather than adds to your demanding life
- Take a deep breath – when people experience stress, it is both the mind AND the body that are affected. Stress turns on the physiological stress response called “fight or flight” and relaxation turns this stress response off. Most people think they know how to relax but often they don’t. Relaxation is a skill and it takes time to learn and find the right methods for you. Take some time to invest in self-care for your body and mind, and practice ...
- Exercise - exercise is a natural stress buster and anxiety reliever. Research shows that as little as 30 minutes of exercise three to five times a week can provide significant stress and anxiety relief
Become a stress spotter
People are different, and so stress affects different people at different times and in different ways. I have listed some of the most common symptoms of stress so that you might begin to think about your own personal response to stress. I am sure that some of these symptoms you will recognise while others might come as a surprise. Developing self-awareness and becoming a stress spotter is a good starting point if you want to tackle this unwelcome visitor in your life!
I am a firm believer that everybody has the ability to manage stress with their own personal and social resources. I also recognise that sometimes, people are so overwhelmed with stress and demands that are out of their control that it makes it hard for them to see or believe in their own resources. This is where someone like me, a clinical psychologist, can support the process of developing ways to manage the impact of stress – now and in the future.
The impact of stress, and especially chronic long term stress, is that it can be pervasive – overwhelming and negatively influence our thoughts about ourselves and our lives, cause problems in our relationships and convince us that our bodies and minds are weak and unable to cope. Stress can have us taking short cuts to relieve the pressure, like drinking more alcohol, eating quick and unhealthy meals or avoiding the jobs that need to get done. These short cuts can lead to longer term problems, and we might find ourselves tangled up in both stress and our response to it. Chronic stress is particularly tricky because it is there every day and so we adapt to it and forget that it’s even there – being chronically stressed feels normal but it’s not the new you!
In my work as a trained therapist, I want to help people do a number of things, which include:-
- Understand the impact that stress is having on their own personal life
- Develop a deeper understanding of why stress has been able to make such an impact
- Explore how someone dealt effectively with stress before it overwhelmed them
- Facilitate the development of a compassionate stance – help people be kind to themselves
- Collaboratively reduce the impact of stress on someone’s life now and in the future
Ultimately, I aim to enable people who work with me to leave therapy feeling empowered and re-united with their personal resources to manage stress effectively so that they are freed up to enjoy life. I want people to leave therapy with the knowledge that their current situation doesn’t have to be their final destination.
For more information about Emma Offord, please click here