What is stress? ‘Stress’ is defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.” In other words, stress is the result of an imbalance between the demands made on us and our personal resources to deal with these demands. Stress is often described as a feeling of being overloaded, wound up, tense and worried. We usually think of stress as being negative, but some stress is actually good for you. In small doses, it can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best.
Stress is a normal physical response to events that make you feel threatened or upset your balance in some way. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—the body’s defences kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight-or-freeze” reaction, or the stress response. The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life—giving you extra strength to defend yourself, for example, or spurring you to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident. But beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, your mood, your productivity, your relationships, and your quality of life. It’s important to learn how to recognize when your stress levels are out of control. The most dangerous thing about stress is how easily it can creep up on you. Stress affects the mind, body, and behaviour in many ways, and everyone experiences stress differently. Because of the widespread damage stress can cause, it’s important to know your own limit. But just how much stress is “too much” differs from person to person. We’re all different. Some people are able to roll with the punches, while others seem to crumble in the face of far smaller obstacles or frustrations. Some people even seem to thrive on the excitement and challenge of a high-stress lifestyle. Your ability to tolerate stress depends on many factors, including the quality of your relationships, your general outlook on life, your emotional intelligence, and genetics. Things that can influence your stress tolerance level include;
- Your support network – A strong network of supportive friends and family members can be an enormous buffer against life’s stressors. On the flip side, the more lonely and isolated you are, the greater your vulnerability to stress.
- Your sense of control – It may be easier to take stress in your stride if you have confidence in yourself and your ability to influence events and persevere through challenges. If you feel like things are out of your control, you’re likely to have less tolerance for stress.
- Your attitude and outlook – Optimistic people are often more stress-hardy. They tend to embrace challenges, have a strong sense of humour, and accept that change is a part of life. But beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, your mood, your productivity, your relationships, and your quality of life.
- Your ability to deal with your emotions – You’re extremely vulnerable to stress if you don’t know how to calm and soothe yourself when you’re feeling sad, angry, or overwhelmed by a situation. The ability to bring your emotions into balance helps you bounce back from adversity and is a skill that can be learned at any age.
- Your knowledge and preparation – The more you know about a stressful situation, including how long it will last and what to expect, the easier it is to cope. For example, if you go into surgery with a realistic picture of what to expect post-op, a painful recovery will be less traumatic than if you were expecting to bounce back immediately.
The 4 ‘A’s to stress management;
- Avoid unnecessary stress. Not all stress can be avoided, but by learning how to say ‘no’, distinguishing between “shoulds” and “musts” on your to-do list, and steering clear of people or situations that stress you out, you can eliminate many daily stressor
- Alter the situation. If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it. Be more assertive and deal with problems head on. Instead of bottling up your feelings and increasing your stress, respectfully let others know about your concerns. Or be more willing to compromise and try meeting others halfway on an issue.
- Adapt to the stressor. When you can’t change the stressor, try changing yourself. Reframe problems or focus on the positive things in your life. If a task at work has you stressed, focus on the aspects of your job you do enjoy. And always look at the big picture: is this really something worth getting upset about?
- Accept the things you can’t change.There will always be stressors in life that you can’t do anything about. Learn to accept the inevitable rather than rail against a situation and making it even more stressful. Look for the upside in a situation—even the most stressful circumstances can be an opportunity for learning or personal growth. Learn to accept that no one, including you, is ever perfect!
Here are some ideas of healthy ways to manage stress in your life;
Go for a walk. Savour a warm cup of coffee or tea.
Play with a pet. Spend time in nature
Work in your garden. Call a good friend.
Get a massage. Sweat out tension with a good workout.
Curl up with a good book. Write in your journal.
Listen to music. Take a long bath.
Watch a comedy. Light scented candles.
Practice relaxation techniques Have some ‘me time’.
If you have found this blog article interesting and wish to learn more about stress management then visit my website at; www.northernbeachespsychology.com.au where you can also find out about me, Nicola George (Chartered Psychologist) and the psychological services I provide.