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Stress

Advice to help manage and reduce stress

Advice to Help Manage and Reduce Stress

We all know what the phrase “I’m stressed out” feels like. When your colleague declares that “this is really stressful”, you immediately empathise – and while your exact experiences of stress may differ, you understand what they are going through.

It may not be surprising to learnt that 74% of adults in the UK have felt so stressed within the last year that they have been left feeling unable to cope. 

Understanding Stress

In order to manage stress, it is helpful to first better understand it; what does it feel like and what causes it for you personally. Knowing and recognising these triggers will make it a lot easier to not just manage stress, but also prevent it.

What is stress?

Stress is the body’s response to a threatening or challenging event or situation. It is normal, in fact healthy to have a response to pressure. In the right circumstances in can motivate you get results, or to take decisive and effective action. What isn’t healthy is when you often feel overwhelmed by feelings of stress or situations that feel stressful to you.  

What can cause stress?

What causes stress is personal to everyone, although it is usually triggered by an event or situation where you experience increased pressure, worry, face big changes, or where you don’t have much control of the outcome. It may be one big event, or possibly lots of small stressful situations can contribute to your overall feeling of stress. 

Even some situations that are expected to feel happy can become stressful, such as a new job, getting married. These big life changes bring uncertainty and can be very stressful, with the added pressure that you may feel you should be positive about them.

How can it affect you?

Stress can make you act in unpredictable and uncharacteristic ways. It can affect the way you feel; irritable, impatient, detached, unable to switch off or stop your thoughts from racing. 

You might recognise changes in your behaviour too; worrying constantly, avoiding people, places or situations, you might procrastinate, become restless, bite your nails, notice a decreased appetite, increase the amount you smoke or drink. 

Stress can also impact your body, and you may experience some physiological symptoms; headaches, nausea, insomnia, stomach aches, muscle tension, high blood pressure, dizziness or light-headedness, chest pains.

These are by no means exhaustive, but it’s easy to see why stress can have a knock-on effect when it impacts our eating and sleeping habits. Taking some time to identify what your signs and symptoms of stress are is the first step in better management of the condition.

Stress triggers

Having discussed what can cause stress, you can begin to look at patterns or situations in your day to day life that may have an impact on your stress. Some of these situations are unavoidable, but by knowing these triggers, you may feel better prepared and able to find ways in which to solve the stress.

Get a pen and piece of paper, and begin to write down events or situations that have or are causing you stress. Begin with work, move into your home life, family and friends. If you can, think about what made that situation stressful for you, and write down how it made you feel. You are beginning to map out what your trigger and response to stress looks like – but remember, this may not always be the same. 

Stress relief techniques

What is in your control – and what isn’t

Go back to your Stress Map, and take two different coloured pens – let’s say red and green. With the red pen, circle everything in your map that is out of your control. This could be your colleague’s negative attitude, or the way they speak to you as an example. Now take the green pen, and circle everything that is in your control. Which, as an example, could be the way you respond to your colleague. 

Acceptance 

Across your page you will have lots of lovely green and red circles. Everything you have circled red, as you’ve established is out of your control. Yep, I’m afraid there is absolutely nothing you can do about it, except come to terms and accept it. This isn’t easy, but there are some steps you can take that will help.

  • Feel it: while you cannot control how bad the traffic is, you can acknowledge that traffic really, really $%@*£! you off. Recognise how the 45 minute congestion makes you feel, and then acknowledge that you shouldn’t be feeling like this, because it is out of your control.
  • Breathe: When you are feeling stressed, your breathing automatically becomes shallow and irregular compared to normal. Deep breathing sends signals to your brain to calm down and relax, the oxygen that your body receive is used to relax your nervous system and regulate your hormones – in particular cortisol and adrenaline, which our body produces more of when in a stressful state.  Try the 4-7-8 technique for quick relief; breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for a count of 7 seconds, and breathe out for 8 seconds. On the outward breath, mentally breathe out the thing you cannot control and let it go.
  • Gratitude: In the heat or, aftermath of stress, it can be difficult to focus on anything else. Taking a mindful minute to focus on what you are grateful for in spite of the stress can help create some balance and positivity. So yes, you are stuck in traffic, but at least you don’t have to walk for 20 minutes in the pouring rain, and get to work soaked through.

Control

Now that you have the tools to work on accepting what is out of your control, let’s look at all those green circles, as these are the elements of stressful situations that you have control over and can directly change. 

These green circles are typically filled with thoughts, emotions, reactions and actions. These are all things that with some mindful practice, you can successfully change using these techniques:

  • Acknowledgement; it’s perfectly normal to have an emotional reaction to things that happen to you, but it is also within your power to change that reaction. When you feel yourself having an emotional response – be it anger, sadness, feeling flustered – take a minute to feel that emotion, and tell yourself “I am feeling (angry), but this is not the response I want to have”
  • Visualise; Now that you know what you are feeling, think about what you would like your response to be instead. Say that to yourself; “Instead of feeling angry, I would like to feel composed”. What does that new, replacement feeling look and feel like. Can you replicate the body language and behaviour of that feeling? Take a breath and envision yourself feeling and acting that way. What, if anything is stopping you from reaching that reaction?
  • Action; Is there anything that you can do that will reduce your stress or make the situation more manageable? If you have a busy to-do list, spending some time scheduling time to get things completed in your diary can help to make the list less overwhelming and easier to achieve. If you’ve been avoiding doing a task and are feeling stressed out as a result, are you able to confront it and do it to reduce the stress you feel? Taking action will have a positive outcome on the way you feel in relation to being overwhelmed and stressed.

Facing a stressful situation

As you become more familiar with what causes you stress, and what it feels like, you may begin to recognise stressful situations arising in advance. With mindful consideration, you might be able to use some of these tips to gentle overcome the stressful situation, or in the very least alleviate some of the stressful impact:

  • Recognise and reassure; When you feel a stressful situation arising, the first thing to do is to acknowledge it – say to yourself, this is a situation that I may find stressful – but it is ok, because I am going to get through it.” This is important, because you will get through it, and your confidence in yourself to handle to situation will only make things more manageable.
  • Breathe; As you anticipate a stressful encounter, pay particular attention to your breathing. As best as you can, control your breathing in and out, keeping it deep and steady (without breathing so hard you feel faint or pass out).
  • Remove yourself; It’s isn’t always an option, but where possible, take yourself out of the stressful environment and find somewhere where you can have a few minutes of peace to collect your thoughts. If a situation arises in a meeting, can you excuse yourself to use the bathroom? Getting some fresh air and a change of scenery will help to calm your breathing and thoughts.   
  • Focus; It can be difficult not to dwell on things that are out of your control, especially if the incident is fresh in your mind. But it is wasted energy and will only add to your feeling of stress. Instead, focus on the elements that you can and have control over, and mindfully practice these to help give you a better grasp over the stressful situation.

Stress may well always be a factor in our lives – but that doesn’t mean it has to be a negative one. With some patience, and gentle kindness towards yourself you can learn to recognise stressful situations, and take preventative measures to minimise the impact that potentially stressful situation may have on you.  

You got this.  WBx

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