There is a lot of information out there, when looking for answers on the ‘stress’ subject. If you are like me and you find that too much information is a bit confusing, then keep reading. I have combined a focused and brief ‘guide’ to the most important facts on stress and practical advice that, hopefully, will answer most, if not all, of your questions.

What is ‘stress’?

Nowadays people use the word stress a lot, mostly when they feel overloaded and cannot cope with everyday pressures. Modern life is full of such pressures, work demands, motherhood, deadlines and frustrations.

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For many of us stress has indeed become a way of life and most people would be surprised to know that stress isn’t always that bad. In small doses, stress can be beneficial when we have to multitask under pressure and acts as a motivator to do our best. It is our body’s way to protect us and it could help us stay alert and focused.

However, beyond a certain point, too much stress is very harmful and can trigger major health problems that will affect our quality of life, our relationships and the people around us. Our reactions to stressful situations also defines the kind of anxiety and stress we will experience. The key, then, is to identify the symptoms of stress we are experiencing and learn to recognize what activates  them.

How do I recognize ‘my’ kind of stress?

Stress can affect us in many ways and every person will not have the same symptoms or signs as someone else. We could start noticing cognitive symptoms such as: memory problems, constant worrying about everything, poor judgment, being unable to see positives in any situation, inability to concentrate and having anxious thoughts. Some of the behavioral symptoms include: a change in the way we eat -either less or more-, the onset of nervous habits such as nail biting, a change in our sleep patterns and feeling the need to be isolated from other people.

[quote_box_center]“It’s when stress turns into distress that you begin to really suffer. Distress occurs when you shift from focusing on a goal in your life to the goal of alleviating the distress in any way you can regardless of the negative consequences it might cause. Rather than proactively preventing problems, you begin to react to the circumstances around you.”[/quote_box_center]

Physical stress symptoms  take many forms and they all usually look trivial and insignificant and that is the reason why they can be easily missed. Those include random aches and pains, chest pains, nausea, diarrhea or constipation, dizziness and frequent colds.

All the above symptoms along with the emotional reaction to stress, which can be seen in the form of: increased moodiness, feeling overwhelmed, depressed or agitated, can also be caused by another psychological condition so it is highly advisable that you seek the help of a qualified health professional if you are experiencing them.

Are you feeling stressed out? If so, you’re not alone. The quiz below will help you assess your own stress levels.

Start by circling all of the items that apply to you.

  1. I find myself less eager to go back to work or to resume my chores after a weekend.

  2. I feel less and less patient and/or sympathetic listening to other people’s problems.

  3. I ask more “closed-ended questions to discourage dialogue with friends and co-workers than “open-ended” ones to encourage it.

  4. I try to get away from people as soon as I can.

  5. My dedication to work, exercise,diet and friendships is waning.

  6. I am falling further behind in many of the responsibilities in my life.

  7. I am losing my sense of humor.

  8. I find it more and more difficult to see people socially.

  9. I feel tired most of the time.

  10. I don’t seem to have much fun anymore.

  11. I feel trapped.

  12. I know what will make me feel better, but I just can’t push myself to do it and I’ll say “Yes, but” to any suggestions that people make.

 
Now, add up the number of items you circled, and check your score below:

  • 0 to 3: More exhausted than stressed out

  • 4 to 6: Beginning to stress out

  • 7 to 9: Possibly stressed out

  • 10 to 12: Probably stressed out

 (Source: Psychology Today)

What effective ways are there to tackle stress daily?

Surely, there are times that you feel like stress is taking over your life and that there is nothing you can do to tackle it. However, we might not be in control of every single situation but you are in control of the way you deal with it and the way you respond to it. In order to be able to manage the stress levels in your life you first need to take charge of your emotions, feelings and thoughts, the way you deal with problems, your schedule, and your environment.

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Start with taking up some kind of exercise. Exercise has been proven to relieve tension and has beneficial effects to our mental and physical state. Moreover, you can choose to start a hobby that you have never done before and has nothing to do with your lifestyle or relate to your work in any way. Spending some time away from home while trying out something new, will temporarily take your mind away from things and offer you new exciting motivators.

“You are most motivated to deal with stress when you’re faced with the negative consequences of a hasty, impulsive action that you took to deal with distress. The next time this happens, resist the temptation to beat up on yourself. Instead, take out an index card and write down, ‘If had this stressful situation to deal with again, what I would have done differently is – – -.’

Put the index card in your purse or wallet and commit to acting differently when you’re faced with stress. You may not actually change your behavior during your next stressful situation, but sooner or later you will. In fact, just reacting to the current situation in this constructive fashion will help you feel better immediately.  Over time you will discover that the best antidote to stress and prevention of distress is taking the actions that you have written down on your index card.”

Make some time for yourself during the day to disengage from everything and everyone. Use that time to relax, organize your day and consequently your life and pursue your own ideas and interests. Meditation has also been proven to be a  very powerful stress buster over the last few years. Specific breathing techniques will slow down your whole system and help you relax, increasing your ability to concentrate and focus at the same time. Deep breathing activates the body’s relaxation response, imposing a  state of restfulness that is the opposite of the stress response.

Talking is a very good way to unload and feel some weight off your shoulders. Try talking to your family, friends or trusted colleagues and express your thoughts and feelings. Opening up to someone who cares  will make you realize that you are truly not alone and that level of sharing will help you relax.

Have you ever been in the middle of a stressful situation and wished you could be somewhere else-like lying on a tropical beach? Guided imagery helps you use your imagination to take you to a calm, peaceful place.

Key points

  • Because of the way the mind and body are connected, guided imagery can make you feel like you are experiencing something just by imagining it.
  • You can do guided imagery with audio recordings, an instructor, or a script (a set of written instructions) to lead you through the process.
  • You use all of your senses in guided imagery. For example, if you want a tropical setting, you can imagine the warm breeze on your skin, the bright blue of the water, the sound of the surf, the sweet scent of tropical flowers, and the taste of coconut so that you actually feel like you are there.
  • Imagining yourself in a calm, peaceful setting can help you relax and relieve stress. (Source: WebMD)

Most of all, ACCEPT the things you can’t change. No matter how calculated and mindful you are there will always be stresses in life that you will not be able to change. What you can do about it is learn to accept the inevitable, as much as humanly possible, rather than fulminate against a situation you can’t change making it even more stressful. When you can’t change the stressor, try changing yourself.

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Psychologist, world citizen, mother - Effie is one half of the alwaysladies.com founding pair. She can bring to life any party with either a smile, or a strong opinion. If like us you can't get enough of Effie, visit her blog at www.thethinkingmomblog.com

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