What is stress?
We all get stressed from time to time, whether it’s due to work or something personal. Sometimes, it’s difficult to pinpoint the cause of feelings of stress, and you end up in a vicious circle of being unable to deal with the feelings, and so they end up getting worse.
There are two elements to stress; one is the situation or issue that piles on pressure, and the other is the feelings and reactions we have when we have to deal with these situations. It’s sometimes difficult to understand if the feelings of stress are because a situation is putting pressure on you, or if because you’re stressed, the task becomes more challenging.
What are the signs of stress?
We all experience stress differently, but there are a number of common physical and emotional symptoms to look out for. There is a high chance that you’re stressed if you have the following signs:
- Feelings of low mood, and as though you have lost your sense of humour
- Feeling irritable and getting easily impatient
- Feelings of anxiety and racing thoughts that are difficult to switch off
- Loss of concentration and easily distracted
- Problems sleeping and/or feeling tired all the time
- Loss of libido or lack of interest in sex
- Constant headaches
What causes stress?
There are a number of different things that cause stress, including:
- Pressure from a job - such as too much work, working long hours, or a lot of pressure to perform or hit difficult targets
- Worrying about a situation that you have no control over. None of us like feeling helpless and out of control, and it’s easy to worry or fixate on a difficult situation that you can’t manage
- Managing a household and/or a family
- Money worries and/or debt
- Juggling your work and your personal life - having too much to do, but not enough time
How can I cope with stress?
It’s important to take a two pronged approach to coping with and combating stress; you need to avoid or better manage external pressures and stressful situations, and you also need to practice self-care and build your emotional resilience so that you can handle these situations easier when they do happen. Here we look at five techniques to help you cope with stress.
Identify what is causing your stress
The first step in learning to cope with stress is to identify what is causing you to feel how you do. Many of us don’t even realise we’re stressed and just struggle on until one day it gets too much and we are forced to slow down.
If you’re feeling the symptoms of stress, it’s important to pause and evaluate what is going on in your life. Are you feeling pressure at work? Are you dealing with something difficult in your personal life? Or perhaps you’re planning a big event and are feeling the pressure; even happy things can cause us stress, such as wedding planning or organising a party.
Sit down and make a list of everything that is going on in your life; you may be so busy just getting on with things that you don’t even realise how much you’re dealing with at the same time. Writing things down is a good way to visualise everything that is going on, and will help you pinpoint what it is that is putting pressure on you. Once you know what is causing your stress, you can work at dealing with it.
Take control of the situation
Once you know what is causing your feelings of stress, it is time to take control. Unfortunately, some situations are simply out of our control, and in these cases it is better to try to accept them, and stop fixating on something you can do nothing about; try to distract yourself with other things that you can control instead.
However, there are certain situations that we can take control of, and by doing so you will feel better and more positive about them. For example, if work is stressing you out, find ways to take the pressure off yourself; if you have too much work on, see if you can delegate any of it to a colleague; or if you’re working long hours, work towards a better work-life balance by setting yourself a limit each day or week of how many hours you can work.
Before you can tackle stressful situations, you have to look after yourself. The symptoms of stress can take a toll on you both physically and emotionally, so it is important to practice self-care and better equip yourself to face the challenges ahead. Just like on an aeroplane, you have to put on your own mask first, before helping others; you have to look after yourself before you can look after anybody or anything else.
- Eat healthily - When you’re stressed and feeling short of time, it’s easy to let healthy eating habits slip, instead going for anything that is quick and easy to make and eat, or even neglecting to eat at all. However, the food you eat greatly impacts how you feel, so eat well to feel well.
- Exercise regularly - It’s a well-known fact that regular exercise is good for your mental health as well as physical. Exercise is a healthy release for stress and other pent-up emotions. You don’t need to spend hours in the gym; instead, go for a swim or a run. Even a walk will give you the opportunity to clear your head whilst keeping you active. Half an hour dedicated to physical activity a day will help you feel healthier and happier.
- Give yourself a break - It’s important to give yourself time to relax everyday, no matter how busy you are. Take a soak in a bubble bath, read a book, watch a film or even have a short nap; when life is piling on the pressure, giving yourself a break to do something you enjoy will help you recharge and feel more able to face the challenges you face.
- Practice meditation - Meditation is a fantastic way to fight stress. Take ten minutes to half an hour a day, and find a quiet, relaxing place to just sit quietly by yourself. Meditation is an excellent way to calm your mind so that you can think clearly, or if you’d prefer, you could even practice emptying your mind of thoughts completely, and using your meditation as an opportunity to totally switch off and escape stress for a time.
Talk about it
Use your support network of family and friends to help you manage your stress. Simply talking to somebody about what is bothering will help you get it off your chest, which is often a huge, instant relief. If you’re having trouble with a work situation, speak to a trusted colleague and ask them for their advice. If you feel you need professional support, speak to your GP, and ask them to point you in the direction of a professional support network.