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Stress and how to manage it – Part One

breatheIt’s been one of those days.  You missed the bus/train/tram to work and the one that you did catch was packed and got stuck in a traffic jam.  You had to grab a sandwich at your desk in order to get all your work finished.  Then you had to rush off to the gym to do your workout or you had to rush home because you had people coming for dinner.  Or perhaps you had children to collect from school and take them to ballet class/piano/soccer/tennis/swimming and get home in time to cook dinner and hopefully still have a little time to yourself later in the evening.  It sounds exhausting – and it is.

Recent studies reveal that almost eight out of ten people suffer from the stress of doing too much in their day and seven out of ten have difficulty sleeping – one of the prime symptoms of stress.  It’s a simple formula:  stress happens whenever we are faced with challenge or change.  This can be any event – pleasant or unpleasant, large or small that involves you in effort that is over and above your normal everyday expectations.  For instance, being given a new project at work, getting ready to go on a holiday or more negatively, having to face up to the news that your partner is having an affair.

Stress, however, does not have to be negative or destructive.  After all, without challenge, most of us tend to feel lethargic, lack enthusiasm and even get bored.  As we rise to meet new and different challenges, our energy levels increase and we feel stimulated, excited and more positive.

‘Good’ stress and ‘bad’ stress

‘Good’ stress is healthy stress, the sort that can make you see things more clearly, think more creatively – and help you get more done.  When you experience this sort of stress, you are likely to feel happy and fulfilled.  Once you’ve met this challenge that’s brought out your creative side and energised you, you might feel as if all tension has defused and you feel a calm glow of satisfaction.  You sleep well and wake up raring to face the day.

If, on the other hand, the demands that are placed on you are ones you don’t think you’ll be able to meet, or the demands go on for too long, you will begin to feel overwhelmed and you experience ‘bad’ or unhealthy stress.  Your confidence starts to wane and you begin to doubt your abilities.  Things can be made worse when you don’t feel you have the support from other people around you.  Sometimes, at this point, people start to indulge in self-defeating behaviour, such as sleeping too much or too little, working too long with nothing much to show for it, drinking more and losing their ability to see the wood for the trees.  This sort of long-term stress can lead to exhaustion and breakdown of physical and mental health.

Everyone is different

We all vary in our ability to deal with stress.  Only you know how much stress you can take before it becomes overwhelming and unbearable.  By understanding what causes stress and recognising the signs and working out ways to manage it, you can harness the positive energy of healthy stress and protect yourself from the harmful effects of bad stress or situations where you are overstressed.  People are different and who we are and how we handle life generally will mean that everyone will have some risk factors that are universal and other risk factors which may be unique to them alone.

If you look at any checklist of stress factors, it will become clear that some things are more likely to affect everyone and other things are more personal-style driven.  For instance, the death of a close family member is likely to have a high stress effect on most people, whereas having difficulty with their boss at work may be a more variable stress indicator.

Pressure points

Virtually anything can cause stress – especially if your current life context is already highly charged with stress.  Getting married can cause stress as can going on holidays or changing your work hours or losing your purse.

We are more vulnerable to stress when we have several changes – and pressure points – happening at once.  Because we are all so different, what one person considers tolerable stress and regards as a normal life change, another might perceive as major upheaval.

Learn what things are pressure points for you and how your stress can be managed by seeking support for yourself.  Get to know your stress threshold and build your repertoire for managing stress through relaxation, meditation or other life-style pursuits or with the help of personal or professional support.

5 Ways to calm down

The following five tips are simple, yet effective whenever you find yourself feeling stressed:

  1. Breathe more slowly and deeply
  2. ‘relax’ to yourself as you breathe out
  3. Drop your head and shoulders forward and feel the stretch in your spine
  4. Relax your jaw and let your lips part slightly
  5. Smile gently to yourself

understand more about stress and how to manage it see Stress-Less.

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