WHat is Stress?
Everyone experiences stress at different points in their life, and in small doses it is essential to motivate us. Too much stress, though, can be overwhelming and leave us burnt-out, filled with anxiety or anger, and unable to act.
How do i know if my stress level is too high?
Everyone is different, but a good way to work out whether stress has become a problem for you is to ask what effect it has on your day-to-day life. If the stress you experience generally stimulates and keeps you alert and motivated, it is not problematic. If you find yourself struggling to concentrate, feeling anxious or angry for no particular reason, are generally tired or fatigues, or are having problems sleeping, there's a good chance stress has become a problem.
A brief aside: I used to be a teacher and phase leader in a London primary school. Towards the end of this period I became extremely stressed and found myself unable to manage my mood and actions as I had previously. It was only when this manifested in physical symptoms (in the form of a serious joint problem, and poor digestive health) that I started taking the stress I had put myself under seriously, mainly because of a physiotherapist who pointed out the effects it was having. Sometimes it takes an external perspective to take us out of the day-to-day routine, step back and re-evaluate. If you want to discuss your stress levels over email or phone, get in touch today.
What does it feel like?
Problem stress can manifest in many different ways:
- wanting to relax but being unable to let go
- feeling prolonged anxiety or worry
- feeling depressed and unmotivated
- sleep problems
- increased use of alcohol / drugs to self-medicate
Stress can also cause a variety of physical symptoms:
- change in appetite
- tightness and pain in shoulders, neck and back
- increased use of alcohol / drugs to self medicate
- digestive problems
- autoimmune problems (eczema, arthritis, ulcers)
The difference between normal stress and problem stress can be hard to draw, but as a general rule if stress is impacting on your ability to live the life you want to lead, and there is no obvious end in sight to the stressful situation, then it is a problem.
Where does Stress come from?
Faced with the same situation, some people will become extremely stressed while others will appear to thrive. Why is this? Stress is a combination of the situation we find ourselves in (e.g. workplace bullying, relationship breakdown, moving house), and our response to this. People differ a huge amount in how they respond to stress. This appears to be partly 'built in' and partly learnt: people who experienced a supportive and loving upbringing tend to be more resilient in the face of stress, but some people are just better at this than others.
What can I do to deal with stress?
Often if a client comes to me complaining of stress, the first things we will do is work out how much the client can change their situation. This is the first step in stress-reduction: change the thing that creates stress.
If you have done as much as you can to change the situation, our work would move on to look at how you deal with stress, and how you can build emotional resilience. This might involve:
- learning relaxation techniques
- activating your support networks and deciding how and when you will ask for help
- devising plans to use time as effectively as possible
- developing communication skills to raise problems with others, and to make sure that you are able to say "no" when you want to
- creating boundaries between work and home
- working on sleep hygiene as a tool to improve sleep length and quality
It may be that this is enough to change the way you feel about your stress. However, stress is often an indication that something else is going on in your life that you are not happy about. If you choose to continue, we would move on to examine the underlying issues that may be at play.
Will i become less capable if my stress levels reduce?
This is a question I asked my physio when I was a teacher and manager, and was advised to become less stressed. I feared that if I stopped thinking and worrying about my work situation I'd take my eye off the ball and things would fall apart. My physio suggested I try de-stressing and if it didn't work I could go back to how I was. One week in I swore I would never go back! I found that the more I let go of stress the more competent I was in my work - stress was holding me back and crowding out my mind, leading to procrastination and circular thinking. Without the same level of stress I not only had more time for myself and family/friends, I also had more time for colleagues and my team.
How long will it take to reduce stress?
Stress reduction can be quite a simple and straightforward process. In 3-6 sessions we could develop a plan which you can continue to use to change your behaviour around stress. If you choose to continue past this 'practical' phase to look at the issues which underlie the stress we might be looking at up to 20 sessions, but the length of our work is always determined by you.