Coping with Stress
Coping with stress is something we all need to be able do in today’s fast-paced and uncertain world. Our bodies are perfectly designed to handle small doses of stress. But, we are not well-equipped to handle long-term, chronic stress. Stress can affect our immune system, our cardiovascular and nervous systems and take a severe emotional toll. It can cause high levels of anxiety, panic attacks, low mood, disturb our sleep, affect our appetite, our motivation and our levels of concentration. It can also cause havoc with our relationships and in our workplace.
First of all, what do we mean by “stress”? Originally a term used by physicists in connection with the properties of materials, we have only been using it with its current meaning since the 1930s. We can define it as “the body’s reaction to harmful situations, whether they are real or perceived.” Stress means different things to different people. What causes stress in one person may have no effect or have a positive effect on another person. Not all stress is bad. In small doses, stress can help you to achieve what you want to achieve in life such as passing an exam or meeting a deadline. It can prevent you from getting harmed in a dangerous situation.
When you feel threatened, a chemical reaction known as “fight-or-flight,” is triggered. This is the stress response. During stress response, your heart rate increases, your breathing quickens, your muscles tighten, and blood pressure rises. If confronted by a violent attacker, you are now ready to flee for your life!
Coping with stress involves finding positive, healthy ways to manage it. Just as we all experience stress differently and find different experiences stressful, the ways we have of coping with stress are different too.
Research has shown that the following strategies are useful for coping with stress:
Work out where the stress is coming from
Figure out where exactly the stress is coming from. Is it in relation to a difficult period you are having at work? A difficulty with one of your close friends / family / partner? By getting specific and pinpointing the stressors in your life, you’re one step closer to getting organised and taking action
What CAN you control and what CAN’T you control?
While you can’t control what your boss says, what your partner does or the current jobs market, you can control how you react to it. Don’t try to control the uncontrollable because you will end up feeling even ore stressed. Stress has a tendency to be paralysing so doing what’s within your power moves you forward and is empowering.
Take a break from (but don’t avoid totally) whatever is causing you stress
This may not always be possible, for example if you have a screaming toddler or demanding boss, but as far as possible, give yourself permission to step away from it and find the time to do something else, which can help you have a new perspective or which makes you feel good. (It’s important to not avoid those situations totally – those bills will keep on landing on the mat!)
Research shows very clearly that exercise benefits your mind just as well as your body. When you are stressed, the hormone adrenalin is coursing around your body and exercise will swiftly burn this off. Find something that you enjoy and which fits into your life style – even a 20-minute walk, run, swim or dance session can give an immediate effect that can last for several hours. Build this into your routine – several time a week, if possible.
Smile and laugh
Be silly, have fun. Watch comedy on TV, spend time with young children, throw a ball for a dog. Our brains are interconnected with our emotions and facial expressions and we often hold a lot of the stress in our faces. Laughs or smiles can help relieve some of that tension and produce the feel good hormone serotonin.
We are naturally social beings and so sharing our concerns or feelings with another person, can really help. But it’s important that the person whom you talk to is someone whom you trust and whom you feel will understand. Speaking to a counsellor or some person who is detached from your situation may also help.
Practise mindfulness or relaxation techniques
The practice of mindfulness involves you training your mind to focus only on the present so that you stop getting lost in regrets from the past or worries about the future. Letting go of such thoughts may help you worry less and accept things as they are. There are many mindfulness courses available these days and plenty of information online about mindfulness, mediation and breathing practices that are all designed for coping with stress.
Do what you love
It’s so much easier to manage periods of stress when the rest of your life is filled with stuff you love. We have the tendency to stop doing those things when we feel stressed although that is very time when we really need to – even if you don’t feel like meeting up for a coffee with old friends, just do it and you’ll be glad you did.
Manage your time well
Reviewing your daily and weekly activities to see what you can weed out and what you really need to focus on is a great way of coping with stress.
Preserve good boundaries
For those of us who are people-pleasers, it can be hard to say “no” but it’s very important that when someone asks a favour of you (could you babysit again this weekend, could you work late again Friday evening?) that you take time to consider “do I really want to do this?” And feel OK about saying no – a few moments of discomfort vs hours of feeling put upon and taken for granted – which only adds to your stress levels.
Don’t try to be perfect
A mindset that can exacerbate stress is perfectionism. Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best and leads very quickly to anxiety and depression and getting “stuck” because we’re scared to move forward.
For more information on Coping with stress go to my Stress Counselling Cork page.
Need some more advice and support?
If you are experiencing stress in your life at the moment and would like to talk it over in relation to some of the coping strategies mentioned in this article, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!