Clinicians talk about positive and negative stress but this can be confusing. We all need pressure in our lives and for the most part people do not find pressure stressful. It is when that pressure builds to an unacceptable level that what we understand as stress kicks in.
Pressure is another way of describing motivation. We need motivation to get out of a warm bed in the morning, to go to work and to perform well. The right sort of motivation always enhances performance, whereas stress does not.
Stress is what happens to us when the demands made on us (pressure) exceed our ability to cope and this is always associated with a loss of control.
P – C = S (pressure minus control equals stress)
However the point at which we experience stress is not the same for everyone.
A situation that is intolerable to one person may be stimulating to another. What you feel is determined not just by events and changes in the outside world, but how you perceive and respond to them. Regardless of your own tolerance to stress long term stress leads to problems with general health and well being.
Effects of stress
Stress occurs at the point at which pressure from any source starts to affect the individual on any level in an adverse way.
The affects of stress can be devastating.
Anything from –
- Anxiety to panic attacks.
- Feelings of losing control to complete overwhelm.
- Broken sleep patterns to insomnia.
- A lowered immune system, poor health, and anything from colds to cancer!
Admitting to stress
It is important to first identify the most stressful areas of life – Those areas most in need of attention. Usually it becomes obvious that there is insufficient life balance.
We can often find it difficult to admit to stress or loss of control.
We may deny we have a problem and cling on to unhelpful beliefs about what it takes to succeed, or the work that we do:
”You can’t escape stress if you want to be successful, it goes with the territory.”
“Everyone doing a job like mine suffers from stress.”.
Sometimes there may be a tendency to rationalise the symptoms of stress:
“I’m just a moody person I suppose and as time goes on I just get worse.”
“I just have a shorter fuse than other people, that’s all”.
Once you understand that stress goes hand in hand with feelings of losing control it is possible to start devising workable strategies to take back that lost control. It is also a good idea to introduce some effective relaxation techniques.
Dealing with stress
I have found hypnosis, meditation and self-hypnosis to be amongst the most useful and effective methods for dealing with stress
Here are some general tips to help manage stress:
- Pace Yourself
Try not to do too many things at once. Even though you may feel compelled to take on too many jobs at once this is not a good idea. If you have too many things going on at the same time, you will start to make mistakes and feel more out of control.
Take small and incremental steps. Nothing is too small or unimportant if it moves you forward.
Do anything that makes you feel you are back in the driving seat!
Make a list of things to do then put them in order, starting with the important things that need to be done first.
DO NOT confuse urgent with important or you will continually be fire fighting and never reach the end of the list. By using your time more effectively to deal with the important stuff you will waste less time and build a greater sense of self satisfaction and achievement.
Remember some things may only be important to you because they make you feel more in control (and that is OK).
Take pleasure in crossing items off your list.
- Share the load
A common mistake made by many people is to try to do everything themselves – “I might as well do this myself, it is going to be quicker in the long run.”
This is a mistake!
Whether at home or the office share the load with others where possible.
Also share concerns and talk things through with a trusted colleague, friend or partner. The British ‘stiff upper lip’ approach and bottling things up is out of date and unhealthy!
- Meditation and other relaxers
I include meditation, guided visualisations, hypnotic techniques and progressive muscle relaxation exercises in this category. Yoga is also good. I teach my clients meditation or some form of self-hypnosis exercise.
When combating stress it is useful to practice relaxation exercises on a regular basis, anything from short meditations like the Three Point Focus, the breathing exercises described in Breathing, or incremental muscle relaxation like the Body Scan, or restful visualisations such as Drift Away.
- R & R
Periods of downtime are important during your working day.
Do not feel guilty about taking a break , you will be increasing your overall performance.
If yours is a sedentary job get in the habit of getting up from your desk at least once an hour and having a stretch and a short walk.
OK I know it sounds frivolous but a commitment to pleasure is also important when dealing with stress.
Active sports and more relaxing pastimes both have a part to play in the de-stress process.
Don’t feel guilty about spending some quality time with the family, for example. Perhaps just watching a movie. I find walking the dog in the open air works well for me on many different levels. Owning a pet can help, there is even some evidence that pets can reduce stress in the workplace too!
Most of us need at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a day. Anything from a brisk walk (taking in some hills is a good idea, anything to increase heart rate and respiration), or an active sport or class at the gym.
Make sure you get enough sleep!
You may find it harder to get to sleep when you are stressed so an hours ‘wind down’ before bedtime is always good.
Step away from the computer, resist the urge to watch a late night thriller and just chill for a while.
A short meditation or relaxation exercise like the Body Scan will also help.
Make sure you are eating a healthy diet.
It is too easy to eat poorly when stressed going for fast food and pre-prepared options over fresh and healthy. You are what you eat, unhealthy food will have a negative effect on your overall health, well-being and stress levels. Even making small changes like decreasing sugar, caffeine and alcohol can help to make you more immune to stress.
- Stop worrying
Since stress is always associated with feelings of loss of control it is vital to take back as much personal control as possible.
Stop worrying about what might happen and take any positive measures you can.
Stop focusing on the worst case scenario and think about how you want your life to be, then do everything possible to achieve it.
Be clear on what you want as only by knowing what you want can you make it happen.
- Work with a professional
Working under stress for any length of time can have a profound and harmful effect on mind and body.
If you have found you have been living with stress for some time and have been unable to make changes on your own it may be time to seek professional help.
A combination of meditation, hypnosis and hypnotherapy could be the answer for you.