What is stress?
Stress can happen to anyone. We all think we know what stress is, but it can be a difficult idea to pin down in words. Here is one way of looking at it. We are likely to feel stressed when there are things going on in our lives which make us feel one or more of these:
- That we can't cope as well as we want to
- That we can't cope at all.
- Dissatisfied or unhappy
- Unsure or unfamiliar
But stress is not always connected to 'bad' things. Even 'happy' events such as a wedding, the birth of a baby, or moving to a new house can be just as stressful. This is because of the pressures, changes and anxieties that such events can bring with them.
But contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as 'good' stress. What this idea really is about is that we all need a certain amount of challenge and stimulation in our lives. Of course we do. But if this gets too much for us, we will feel stressed.
How stress makes you feel
Stress upsets our normal body chemistry, and produces all sorts of symptoms. Here are some of the signs and symptoms of stress:
- Indigestion/churning stomach
- Difficulty taking a deep breath
- Aches and pains
- Muscle tension
- Weight gain or loss
- Dry mouth
- Tingling in fingers toes and face
- Negative thinking
- Feeling 'unreal'
- Can't sleep or very sleepy
- Eating too much or too little
- Making mistakes
- Poor concentration
- Change in usual behaviour
- Increased smoking, or drinking.
Sometimes stress can cause people to have attacks of particularly acute anxiety, called a panic attack. Your stomach churns, heart races, breathing may be rapid, and you may sweat, feel faint, feel overwhelming fear and panic, and a sense of impending disaster, along with a pressing need to escape from the situation you find yourself in.
These attacks are actually the body's normal reaction to threat or danger, brought into action by the automatic part of the nervous system. This is meant to prepare the body to fight the source of the danger, or run away from it. This means that panic attacks will do you no harm at all.
But in today's world this 'normal' reaction is no help to us. Threats and dangers such as mounting bills, an angry line manager, or overwork cannot be dealt with by running away or by fighting them. So all of this bodily mobilisation simply has no outlet and makes us feel awful instead.
If you have panic attacks, the key is to catch them early, and stop them in their tracks. Look out for the first signs, and when you notice them, you should immediately PAUSE like this:
Pause....and make yourself comfortable (sit down, lean on something etc.)
Absorb....detail of what's going on around you
Use....any method of relaxing quickly which works well for you, then
Slowly.....when you feel better,
Ease....yourself back into what you were doing.
There are no overnight miracle cures
Don't be discouraged if there is no instant improvement. This takes time to happen; anything from a few days or weeks, to some months or more. You may also find that you have ups and downs. If you feel sure that you are not progressing as you should, have a word with your GP who may be able to refer you for further help, or you could try a properly trained Stress Adviser or Coach.
Where do I go from here?
Think about whether the cause of your stress can be removed or reduced, and do something about it, if you can. Take specialist advice if need be from a debt counsellor, lawyer, Victim Support, Bullying Help-line and so on. Sometimes there are answers you haven't thought about.
If you feel unwell or are worried about a symptom go along and have a chat with your doctor.
Whether or not you can do something to remove or reduce the stress, try the following list to help to cushion yourself from the stress, and so reduce and dampen its effects on you, making you more resilient with a good work-life balance:
- Slow down your pace - you're not in a race
- Sort out your priorities and stick to them
- Take regular breaks (even 5 minutes is good!)
- Be nice to yourself - every day
- Accept all offers of help
- Be organised - keeping lists helps when you've a lot to do
- Learn to say 'no' when necessary
- Keep fit and take regular exercise which you enjoy
- Find someone you can trust to talk to and share it all with
- Make time for regular pastimes which you really enjoy
- Make time for friends and family
- Eat healthily and don't skip meals
- Avoid too much caffeine
- Don't use alcohol, food, or drugs to combat stress
- Check regularly that you're not breathing too fast or with your upper chest - if you are, slow it down a bit and use your tummy to breath instead
- If you have panic attacks, deal with them as given above
- Relax regularly (every day, and every week, no excuses! ) - a walk, music, socialise, pat the dog, gardening, yoga, aromatherapy, lazy bath or shower, special relaxation tape, etc. etc.
- At least twice a year, have a complete break for a week, and go on holiday or do something else which is relaxing and enjoyable.