To be clear, the stress being described in this blog is the normal everyday life stress not for instance, to post traumatic stress disorder where the symptoms described below maybe relevant but the treatment is markedly different as it tends to require professional assistance.
Getting back to “regular” stress, it’s a natural physical reaction to ongoing life pressures and events such as job interviews, taking exams, moving home, excessive workload or relationship problems. In itself stress is ok when the pressure leads to a positive reaction where we rise to the challenge like many of the Team GB Athletes at London 2012 did in the face of high expectations. However it becomes harmful when the demands being placed on us are over and above what we can cope with at that particular time. Everyone’s limit is different and how you perceive and respond to pressurising events affects the level of stress that is experienced. This is where becoming more aware and attuned to what causes you stress and its affects helps. The confusing thing is the symptoms can be associated with other medical conditions and have to be discounted before the different expressions of stress can be dealt with.
So, how does stress show itself? These days most people name a number of symptoms. Overall they can be grouped into four categories. The impact can be on the functioning of our body, emotions, thinking and behaviour and below are a handful of examples of how it can affect us:
- Our body - Feeling tired most of the time; More frequent cases of colds, flu or other infections; Upset stomach; Panic attacks; Sleeping badly and high blood pressure.
- Our emotions - Increased feelings of anxiety and worry or feeling close to tears much of the time.
- Our thinking - Feeling a loss of self confidence or self-esteem compared to normal levels.
- Our behaviour - We may become irritable, short tempered or even passive; Comfort eat to soothe anxious feelings or experience loss of appetite; Take more time off work; drink too much alcohol or coffee or find it hard to concentrate.
Our mental and emotional health underpins all health and well being. That said, life is life and at times stressful situations can’t be avoided and the issue becomes how best to manage what is going on. These are some of the many things that can be done to help manage the effects of stress:
- Be realistic by setting reasonable goals.
- As they say it’s good to talk. Talking helps to put things in perspective.
- Stay healthy by getting enough sleep, eating well and keeping active. Regular exercise helps to release the tension caused by stress and can give you more energy too.
- Avoid negative ways of coping with stress such as drinking or comfort eating. They may seem to relieve stress, but in the long term they make things worse like alcohol which intensifies your mood.
- Learn to relax. Relaxation techniques relieve anxiety and the symptoms of stress such as headaches, muscle aches and insomnia.
- Survive. Sometimes that’s all that can be done. Take one day at a time and don't be too hard on yourself and take time out when you can.
- Importantly, be aware of the warning signs of stress.
STRESS DOES NOT MEAN FAILURE. It is nature's way of helping you to survive for a specific time period. However just because you can survive it doesn’t mean that you should allow it to become the norm. Let me reiterate again, if the persistence of excessive stress isn’t addressed it can lead to many health problems as you become exhausted. By learning to recognise the signs of stress, you can learn to control its effects, that way it doesn't become a big problem in your life.