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Stress is a normal physiological and psychological response to changes within ourselves and the world around us. Stress itself isn't a bad thing, and there would be a problem if we didn't have stress in our lives. The difficulty with stress lies in how we perceive it and respond to it.
Your personality type, past experiences, the help you’ve received and your resilience as a person all impact how stress affects you.
Stress symptoms can present themselves mentally, emotionally, behaviourally, socially and physically. If you’re trying to determine whether or not you’re stressed, look out for changes in your temperament like getting impatient or easily annoyed and agitated.
Ask yourself: are you eating too much or too little, are you being antisocial or overbearing with your friends and family, are you experiencing bowel problems or have a bad aftertaste in your mouth. Stress can also affect your heart, blood, cause rashes or headaches and even immune disease.
Maintaining healthy stress levels is a balancing act, but luckily there are a lot of things we can do to manage, prevent and relieve stress in our lives:
Identify your stressors
Half the problem for people is that they’re usually not aware of what is bothering them or will stress them. Therefore, recognising what upsets you is key to protecting yourself from stress before it strikes. First, identify whether your stress is acute or chronic.
Chronic stress might be, for example, the work stress of having a boss who continually lies. Acute stress might involve a big life change, such as moving house. The difference between the two is that acute stress has an end date, while chronic stress is something that you can’t see going away anytime soon.
You need to become aware of how to respond to stressors that cause strain or tension in your life. When you notice the signs of stress, being aware of your response means you can prepare yourself, and allows you to shift your focus to something else.
Identify your strengths
It’s important to give yourself credit, and it can be for the smallest things like getting up out of bed in the morning. Even sitting at your computer googling how to manage stress shows your level of self-awareness, and it means that you’re halfway there. Noticing changes in your mood and behaviour means that you want to contribute and support yourself and those around you, which is an accomplishment in itself.
Share your stress
It is always good to express yourself and share how you’re feeling, but also recognise who you’re speaking to. Sometimes when we talk to people, they have a list of ready-made answers for us. The great thing about talking to a professional is that they are coming from an impartial, neutral place. This means we don’t need to worry about outside bias and can focus freely and solely on ourselves. Remember that keeping your stress bottled up is the worst thing you can do and only helps it grow. Your workplace may have an Employee Assistance Programme that gives you access to support.
Practice stress management techniques
Diet and exercise do wonders for reducing stress. Even just thinking about going for a run or eating healthier helps because it makes you more aware.
Think about an activity or action that helped you to de-stress in the past and try it again. There is no one-size-fits-all prescription that eliminates stress, so this is one of the most effective things we can do. Time management can help, especially when the lines are blurred between the home and the workplace.
Creating a detailed timetable makes you visualise what you’re going to do, which will help you with stress control throughout the day. Don’t forget to carve out time for things you enjoy. Things like playing with your children or walking your dog will help with stress management. Sleep is also a powerful tool for stress relief. Making time for adequate sleep every night can make a big difference!
The path to better balance
By trying out these various techniques – either to nip stress in the bud or alleviate it when it takes hold – you should start to find specific practices that work best for your mind and body.
Remember that some stress can help us affect positive change in our lives, as long as we retain our perspective and lean on the right supports, when necessary, to achieve the right balance.
This content is for information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek advice from your GP or an appropriate medical professional if you have concerns about your health, or before commencing a new healthcare regime. If you believe that you are experiencing a medical emergency call 999 / 112 or seek emergency assistance immediately.
Dr Mou Sultana
Vhi Health Coach
Chartered Psychologist and Psychotherapist