Some researchers have found that people tell them that it’s not so much the big events in their lives that are stressful as everyday stresses and hassles, such as travelling to work in the rush hour, an overload of meetings invading the working day and pushing out the ability to work on projects in blocks, losing your wallet or simple everyday events like disagreements over who is going to cook dinner or the division of household tasks.
What this tells us is that people, are generally speaking, more done in by the drips than the floods in their lives. Constant tensions and disagreements on a daily basis at work and /or home can become chronic stressors.
Context and timing
There’s something else that researchers have found. Most people can tolerate higher levels of stress in some areas of their lives than in others. This varies according to the individual. It can also change.
You may be the kind of person who thrives on the challenge of pitting yourself against someone on the tennis court but find yourself highly stressed when competing with a colleague for a promotion. Or you might be a person who thrives on the challenges of work-place competition but is stressed by the thought of playing competitive squash.
Timing is also a significant factor. If things are going well overall in your life, then an unanticipated challenge that might otherwise bring stress is better accommodated by your good mood and feeling of well-being. If, on the other hand, you’re feeling irritable and tense because several things have gone wrong during the week, then the next thing to go wrong will be a major stressor and pressure point.
For some people even the weather can play a part. Everyday nuisances of city life – crowded and late transport, noise and pollution may be manageable in the summer time, but become pressure points and stressful as the days get shorter and darker. Some people find that in the depths of winter when everything is grey and miserable, stresses are more keenly felt.
Change – and dealing with it
In many stressful situations, the common factor is change. This might be change for the better or worse. In turn, change generates feelings of both loss and gain. Our reaction to change will depend largely, on whether we feel we have gained more than we’ve lost. For instance, a move may mean leaving a home you love, losing some friends and social networks and leaving behind a lifestyle which you enjoy. On the other hand, it might also mean gaining a new and better job and the opportunity to create new networks – personally and professionally. There inevitably will be losses and gains. For one person the move may prove distressing and stressful and for another it might be exciting.
It’s in the balance
The balance between loss and gain, the enormity of the change and the degree of control we have over what has happened all play their part. There are also counterbalancing factors such as how well you feel – physically and emotionally – how much support you have from others and your overall state of mind about the change. The combination of loss and gain, control, well-being and belief that you can manage the change will affect the degree of stress you feel.
As a general rule, major events such as getting married, becoming a parent or retiring from work are less likely to be stressful than unanticipated change. When we can plan for or anticipate change – even a major change – we are in a better position to manage our stress levels. Unforeseen events, such as an accident or illness are likely to be more stressful as we will not be in a position to manage them as well.
Managing your stress
You’re more vulnerable to stress when several changes occur at once. There’s also a limit to the number of changes anyone can cope with at any particular time. If you anticipate a major change, try to minimise the effects of stress by avoiding over upheavals wherever you can. Professionals believe that you can keep stress within manageable limits and you should aim to go through only one major change at a time. An example of this is that if you’ve experienced recent separation or divorce, then postpone a move until you have time to adjust to your changed situation.
Too much processed food can interfere with blood sugar levels, making you feel sluggish and less able to manage stress. Grains, fruit and vegetables trigger a steady release of energy.
Here’s what to eat to stress-proof your diet:
To learn more about managing your stress see Stress-Less: Your Guide to Better Living