STRESS!!! By Jenny Hartill
One of the most popular issues in the modern world today is Stress. Many people don’t know the signs and symptoms of stress, they assume they should just be able to “deal with life” – some are told to “just get on with it” or “pull your socks up”. This kind of emotional invalidation can cause a person to feel under even more pressure and in time lead to further issues for example anxiety, low self esteem and low confidence. This article aims to inform about the nature of stress, the most common responses to stress and how to cope when your stress levels feel too much.
Firstly, what is “stress”? When you feel like things are getting a little too much and you’re struggling to cope – you’re stressed. Recognising and acknowledging your stress is important because if you ignore it and “shove it under the carpet”, the stress is likely to build up (whether you’re aware of it or not) and then come out in other more severe emotional, behavioural and physical symptoms. When your body reacts to stress physically you’ll experience what we call “fight or flight”. This term refers to the fact your body has perceived the stressor and is getting ready either to fight it or to run away. Years ago when we had to kill our own dinner as opposed to get it from the supermarket, our ancestors had to know what they could handle in certain situations, our fight or flight response developed to keep us alive. Do you kill the animal for dinner or does it look angry enough to rip your head off? If it does look angry, can you take it on and win or do you run for your life and find the nearest cave in which to hide until said angry animal has gone away? These days rather than the angry animal we have work, relationships and other stressors to deal with, but our bodies haven’t caught up with our brains so we still physically react the same way. Sometimes this can be a scary experience, for example if you start having palpitations at your desk seemingly for no apparent reason, but say your boss just had a massive go at you. Your boss is the proverbial angry animal, your boss is scary, you either want to punch them or hide under your desk (cave). The third reaction other than fight or flight is freeze - this tends to happen for example in an exam environment where your brain seems to freeze up and you remember nothing. This is because your subconscious is too foused on escaping the percieved threat as opposed to ansering exam questions, so your head seemingly empties so that you can focus on your survival. Obviously, none of these reactions are acceptable in the modern world (unless you want to be sacked / sectioned / fail your exams) so generally we stew over it until it all gets too much.
The three most common responses to stress are:
Extroverted response: Anger, agitated, heated, overly emotional, can’t sit still
Introverted response: Withdrawn, depressed, shut down, spaced out, little energy or emotion
A mixture of both: Tense, freeze under pressure, can’t do anything, look paralysed but very agitated underneath.
Believe it or not, there is such a thing as positive stress. Positive stress is called Eustress, it’s the kind of stress experienced for example if someone surprised you with a birthday party or when a sales person gets in a big deal. It’s amazing, fantastic, exciting, and the same physical response happens in your body as if you were suffering with negative stress. The only difference is mindset. Your body cannot differentiate between positive and negative stress, it just sees it as the same thing. You would feel as exhausted after an exciting night out partying to celebrate that big deal as you would sat at your desk wondering how on God’s green earth you’re going to hit that target and your boss is going to kill you.
So, how do we deal with stress? The most important thing is to learn how to relax. Many people don’t even know what being relaxed is, they assume it’s plonking yourself in front of the telly and watching a comedy. Although this may make you feel better emotionally and take your mind off things, if you’re still getting excited at something you’re watching, your body doesn’t physically know the difference. The best thing to do is to allow your mind to clear and your body to physically relax. For example, a nice warming bubble bath with candles and some soft soothing music. Meditating or using some visualisation techniques (imagine you’re on a beach relaxing) before you go to bed. Relaxation is an art that is individual to everyone, some people find it easy some don’t. I’m one of those people who don’t, worrying about things may as well have been a hobby as I was always stressing about something, and if I wasn’t stressing about something I was stressing about the fact I wasn’t stressing about anything!!
The trick is to ground yourself – ask yourself if you really, honestly need to worry about whatever it is. I find that priority boxes are a big help as it helps put things into perspective. Here’s how I think of them (using a mildly amusing metaphor at the same time to get my point across):
Get an A4 piece of paper, split into 4 boxes. The first box is priority 1 (these things absolutely must be done asap, they’re more important than defending the earth from alien attack). The next box is priority 2 (really need to do these things pretty soon but the world won’t end if I don’t, the aliens don’t look that mean anyway). The next box is priority 3 (this stuff can wait a while, the aliens just stopped by for a pint on their way past) and the last box is priority 4 (really don’t need to even bother looking at this stuff for ages, the aliens didn’t even drop by they just had a peek at a mildly interesting looking planet before speeding off into the galaxy). Once you put things into perspective, the stress doesn’t seem so bad because it seems more manageable rather than being one big scary lump of stress!!
If you do find yourself thinking about things a lot and stressing over them, or maybe obsessing over the same problem over and over, talk about it. Have a good old fashioned rant, it may be that you just need a different perspective and more information in order to solve the issue. If you’ve already told everyone that will listen to the point you reckon they may be having murderous thoughts whenever you bring the issue up again, write it down. Seeing things in black and white really does help. This is especially the case when stressing over something constantly as when you see just how much you think about it, this may be the catalyst you need to solve the issue. Therapy is incredibly helpful when it comes to stress, we can provide all sorts of help but mainly a different perspective and a different way of coping.
I hope this article has been of use. Next time I’ll talk about another big issue people suffer from in modern society – Anxiety. For more info on what we do see www.chelmsfordtherapyrooms.co.uk