The age of technology, the internet, television and mobiles, mean we never really switch off. The reality of single parenthood, financial troubles, work pressure, death, divorce and relationship problems mean we constantly live in a state of heightened stress. This is further compounded by the threat to our personal safety and that of our families due to the increase of crime in our country.
Sleepless nights are the rule, well balanced meals virtually non-existent and family time just disappears. Pressures at work swamp us, tasks on the to-do list get longer and worse still, an impending sense of doom and depression washes over us. We try our best to balance our career and personal life, but guilt or internal conflicts arise as we don’t get it right.
Stress and anxiety as a result of these pressures affect us all and often rob us of our health – mental, physical, spiritual and emotional.
As the pace of life accelerates at breakneck speed, how and where can one find balance? Look at what causes stress in your life and identify whether it is healthy or not. Some stress is healthy as it drives us to make decisions, act on them and meet deadlines, however other types of stress can be detrimental.
Typical sources of stress include:
- Lack of control over work
- Excessive time pressures
- Excessive or inflexible working hours
- Poor work / life balance
- Difficult relationships
- Financial pressures
- Parental responsibilities
- Lack of support
- Uncertainty over career and future
Symptoms of stress – how do you know if the pressure of daily living cause you stress? Here are some typical physical stress symptoms:
- Constant colds and other infections
- Muscular tension and backache
- Tiredness and difficulty sleeping
- Digestive problems
- Raised heart rate
- Increased sweating
- Lower sex drive
- Skin rashes
- Blurred vision
Here are some typical emotional and behavioural changes you may feel:
- Want to cry much of the time
- Feel that you can’t cope
- Short-tempered at work and at home
- Feel that you’ve achieved nothing at the end of the day
- Eat when you’re not hungry
- Lose your appetite
- Smoking and drinking to get you through the day
- Unable to plan, concentrate and control work
- Getting less work done
- Poor relationships
- Loss of motivation and commitment
We need to develop better coping strategies to avoid suffering from some form of anxiety disorder, which include panic anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias and generalized anxiety disorder.
Master your stress levels
What is stress? Simply put, it is the mental, emotional or physical strain or tension an individual feels. Typically, a person will experience high levels of stress when demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.
Let us examine what happens when you become stressed.
You will feel threatened by a specific situation and make a judgment on whether you can cope or not. You will automatically assess whether you have the capabilities and resources to meet this threat.
If you perceive that the situation will damage you in some way or that you do not have the resources to cope, your stress levels will go sky high. Your perception and interpretation of stress is what drives your level of stress, not the actual situation itself. Read this again, as this is an important point. Obviously, really dangerous situations do occur and your stressful reaction to it is vital to your well-being — it acts as your early warning system.
The point I’m making is a key aspect of stress. Often we are harsh on ourselves; we tell ourselves we can’t cope or that we do not have the necessary resources to deal with the situation. This in itself causes stress. Now combine this with negative thinking and you have a certain recipe for stress and unhappiness, which eventually undermines your self-confidence and creeps into all areas of your life.
If you have huge amounts of stress in your life, feel you cannot cope and suffer from signs of depression or anxiety, please seek professional help from a counsellor or medical practitioner. In order to beat stress, you need to learn to be better at interpreting the situations around you and thereby minimize their effect.
Awareness the first step
- Become more aware of the stressful situations in your life
- Keep a stress journal where you diarise for two weeks all the unpleasant things in your life which cause stress
- Write down any thoughts and situations which you perceive as negative
- At the end of the period the patterns in your thinking will become clear to you
- What are the most damaging thoughts? These could be feelings of inadequacy or worries about job performance or about other people’s reactions to your work.
- Challenge these patterns, learn from them or see them as incorrect
- If you don’t, these negative thoughts will suffocate positive thinking and create further stress. Therefore, these thoughts must be the first ones you tackle.
- Remember that negative thinking is an early warning system to show you where to direct your attention
Deal with stress when it happens
Be aware of your own early warning signs — accelerated heart rate, breathlessness, lack of concentration, aggression, foot tapping, headaches, feeling overwhelmed and any other typical symptoms you have when stressed out (this is when you are feeling threatened). Then ask yourself what you need to do to cope with the situation. Ask a question that focuses your mind on what you need to do. Ask what support infrastructure you have – your faith, your inner strength, a friend, a colleague, a boss, your partner, a mentor, a coach.
Negative thinking will automatically tell you that you cannot cope.
If you focus and concentrate, you’ll find you do have support to draw from, even though you may perceive that you don’t. These resources can come from many areas, the least of which is your own strength.
Commit to busting stress
Make a plan based on the insights you had around your own thinking patterns.
- Write your plan down and commit to doing something about it
- Do something every day towards building your coping mechanisms
- One way is to work on your positive thinking to stop negative thoughts, build your self-confidence and look for opportunities that are almost always present in a difficult situation
- Here are some reading resources from which you can draw: ‘Good Housekeeping – Ultimate Stress Buster’, by Sarah Brewer; ‘I’m Too Busy to Be Stressed’, by Hilary Jones; and ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’ by Dale Carnegie
- Create a long lasting plan in your life that will manage stress positively so that you learn to cope with the demands of living in the 21st century