Different types of stress
Stress can take many forms. You can suffer from an acute attack of stress potentially including an onset of physical reactions such as an elevated heart beat, sweating, confusion, feeling weak or feeling sick. You may feel overwhelmed, scared, worried or irritable. This type of stress, whilst very distressing, is usually short lived.
Other types of stress may develop over a longer period of time and build up slowly so it is difficult to even recognise that you are suffering from stress. This type of stress can affect our outlook on life, our emotional state and self-esteem. Stress can disrupt your sleep, cause headaches and stomach aches, make us more susceptible to illness and drive us to use coping mechanisms that are bad for our health and wellbeing.
What causes stress
Sometimes the experiences that you have had throughout your life can make you more susceptible to stress and some personality types are more sensitive to stress than others. It may be that you have never been shown how to deal with stress, or you have not wanted to acknowledge that you are suffering from stress and so the affects of long term stress are becoming more of a problem for you to deal with.
Improving the way you manage stress
The way that people feel and react to stress is very individual, therefore the methods of improving the way you can manage stress is individual too. What works for one person may not be very helpful to another. However, here are some suggestions for feeling more in control of stress and anxiety.
Notice when you are feeling stressed. Look out for the tell tale signs such as becoming irritable, anxious or overwhelmed. Are you feeling fragile, panicked, frantic, exhausted or confused.
Examine what caused you to feel this way. Was it an event, request, conversation. Try and determine what triggered the stress response.
Be honest with yourself
Be honest with yourself were you triggered because someone asked you to do something or are you stressed because you don’t think you can do it, or because you procrastinated and put it off. Are you stressed about finances because you don’t know how you are going to manage or is it because you don’t want to look bad in front of others or let people down. Have you been unfairly challenged or do you really feel that you could have done better or you don’t feel good enough.
Write it down
Keep a diary or a note of when you are triggered, what you are feeling and why. If you are repetitively going through the same emotions or feelings it will help to minimise the strength of your response if you can understand your feelings and responses better.
Leave it for later
If you are in a state of mind and environment that will enable you to work on your stress related emotions then you may benefit from doing further investigation. However, if you are suffering from an acute attack of stress, or you are feeling overwhelmed or in a fragile state of mind then leave dealing with stress for later. Try to remove yourself from the stressful situation, conversation or encounter that has triggered you.
Talk about it
Try not to bottle things up. That usually leads to a big outburst that people (and you) are not expecting later on. Try to deal with small stresses or anxieties as they come up. This can limit feelings of being out of control. It will also make you feel better to know that you are not dealing with your stress or your feelings on your own. Sometimes when we talk about how we are feeling and verbally express it we can see our issues and problems in a different light and they do not seem as bad as we initially thought they were.
Make time for yourself
Making time for yourself is easier than it sounds when our lives can be stressful, fast paced and full of actives and things that we really feel we must do. It takes time and practice to become your own best friend but it is worth the effort. If you don’t look after yourself please don’t expect others to do it for you. Dropping passive aggressive hints to your partner about doing the washing up, hoping your boss will appreciate you or dreaming about winning the lottery won’t help you. Take charge of your own wellbeing and mental health and build time into your life and your daily schedule for yourself. Something as simple as meditating for half an hour before going to bed, reading a book, or relaxing in the bath can help to de-stress you after a busy day. Just slumping on the sofa in front of the TV will not be enough to give your brain a rest. Try and avoid looking at your phone (especially social media or emails) an hour before bedtime. If you find it hard to look after yourself look for the thoughts or beliefs that you have that prevent you from doing so.
“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.”
Stress related emotions
Sometimes our emotions can prevent us from reducing stress. They may include, but are not limited to;
Need to please – This emotion feels like it needs to please others, usually at your own expense. It can hide feelings of not being good enough or fears that you will not be liked, loved or needed. It can drive you to avoid saying no when you have already taken on too much, or lead you to put yourself into situations that you know are stressful for you because you would rather please others. If you know you are doing something or signing up for something that you would rather not do examine this emotion.
Sorry – A distant cousin of need to please. This emotion will have you apologising for even being alive! If you find that you are constantly apologising for things, even when deep down you don’t feel that it is your fault please stop and examine how you are feeling and what is causing this behaviour. It is easy to think that by apologising you are removing the stress from the situation however over time constantly feeling less than others or like you have to resolve others problems will take its toll on your mental health.
Responsibility – This emotion feels responsible for others, which can drive you to take on things that others should be doing for themselves or worrying about what others are doing. By picking up the emotional or physical slack for others you are both exhausting yourself and taking away from others the ability to do and think for themselves. Examine this emotion and find out why you really feel responsible.
Frantic – This emotion will have you running around like a headless chicken. Are you frantically completing a project, cleaning your house, or working ‘but you don’t understand this has to be done’ right? Wrong, examine why you feel that you need to do what you are doing. Go beyond the obvious because my boss expects me to, because we have guests arriving, because I promised. Look to what sits behind frantic what are you really feeling, people won’t like me or may judge me, I am afraid of failure etc. Once you have dealt with your frantic emotion and the feelings that come with it you can go back to completing your task in a calm manner and actually enjoy the experience of doing it. Nobody enjoys being frantic!
Control – The emotion of control is a frequent offender. It usually comes up when you are feeling out of control with a situation. It can cause you to feel anxious, frustrated, angry or sad. You may try to justify your need to control by telling yourself that for whatever reason it is necessary to control the situation. It usually never is. Don’t give into control examine it and find out what drives this response in you.
Defiance – This emotion can appear on its own or as a pair with control. It seems helpful as it can drive you to complete tasks and pull you through against all odds. However, it can lead you to put yourself in self destructive situations, use up tonnes of energy and push others away. If others are telling you no and you are swimming against the tide ask yourself why you want to behave in this way. Is it really a worthy cause or do you just not like being told what to do and if so why?
Can’t rely – This emotion assumes that it can’t rely on anyone. It can make you anxious or irritated or even angry. It can cause stress because a response can include taking things into your own hands, not asking for help and putting yourself into a situation whereby you can become overwhelmed.
“Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it.”
Challenge your perception
How is it one person can view a situation completely differently to someone else. Two people can share a moment but feel completely differently about it. Their experience can be wildly different depending on their own perception. For example imagine a couple are taking a walk down the beach together holding hands. One of them is having a wonderful time, they are in love, they feel warm and happy and they are enjoying the feeling of the sand beneath their toes and the cold water splashing over their feet. The other person is stressed out, they feel anxious and not very good about themselves. They are trying to work out how to tell the other one that they don’t want to be with them anymore. The sand is irritating them and the water is freezing they just want to get their shoes back on so they can go home. It is the same situation but two different perceptions depending on what the person is thinking and feeling. Each person is experiencing their own version of the same reality.
In every moment we are creating our own reality based on our perception of what is happening around us and how we think or feel about it. In the same way as the couple on the beach our perception of what is happening formulates how we feel about events. This is important because our perception has the power to change negative feelings into positive ones.
When you notice that your perception has become negative try and ask yourself why you are feeling that way. What is it about the situation or event that you feel negatively about. Try and question your own perception and understanding of the situation. Are there any positives that could come out of it? Is there another way of thinking about what is happening? Could you turn the situation from a negative to a positive one?
If you can truly change your perception then you will find that your feelings, beliefs and emotions will also change to more positive ones and you will feel less stressed and anxious and more calm and joyful. Try this out on a daily basis when you are not feeling particularly anxious or stressed. When little things happen that make you feel unhappy change the way you view them and look for the positives in each situation. It may feel a bit strange at first and you may feel that it is not working but stick with it. The more you do this the easier it will become and when you are faced with a bigger challenge it will be easier to implement this approach if you are used to challenging your perception.