What Is Stress?
We are all familiar with stress. It is a normal response that we may experience to some extent every day. Stress is the mind’s and body’s way of preparing us to face a challenge. A certain level of stress is necessary to not only function, but to motivate us to reach our full potential. Too much stress, however, can be a health hazard. The first important step in stress management involves noticing when our stress levels have become unhealthy. Once stress overload is recognised there is a range of stress management skills available to address the problem.
What Are The Symptoms?
A state of chronic stress is not reached overnight – it takes time! Before reaching this state we may notice many symptoms. Rather than acknowledge the signs, we may push ourselves harder, pretending that everything is fine. This continual exposure decreases our ability to function in every area of our lives. The good news is we can stop stress escalating by recognising the warning signs:
- Problems in relationships
- Increased nicotine, alcohol or caffeine use
- Reduced engagement with enjoyable activities
- Avoidance of stressful situations that need to be dealt with
- Lack of enthusiasm
- Difficulty sleeping
- Increased heart rate
- Nausea and fatigue
- Muscle aches and pains
- Increased sweating
- Constipation or diarrhoea
- Changes in appetite
- Negative thoughts/worrying
- Loss of concentration
- Difficulty making decisions
- Bad dreams
What Causes Problem Stress?
There are many explanations about why we experience excessive stress. Broadly, feelings of stress come from a combination of two sources: the environment around you (stressful events) and your way of dealing with that environment (your personality.) People who feel high stress in a lot of situations tend to believe that the world is full of negatives, and that they don’t have much control over the negatives in their lives. Some studies suggest that individuals inherit the tendency to feel more stress. Others describe stress as a response that is learned over a lifetime..
Irrespective of the cause, stress is an increasing part of our lives, and ignoring it will not make it go away. Once stress overload is recognised, there are skills you can acquire to address the problem.
Does what I eat matter?
When we experience stress, our bodies use up enormous amounts of vitamins and minerals. The depletion of our body’s nutrients can leave us tired, run down, irritable and less able to deal with our responsibilities. If you feel that way, it might be a good idea to visit your local doctor or a nutritionist.
Improving your diet would assist in improving your wellbeing.
Is exercise useful?
Physical exercise is invaluable in releasing tension and assists in the processing of vitamins and minerals. Any physical exercise is helpful – walking, swimming, jogging or gardening. Exercise need not be a chore – especially if it is done with friends. The most important point to remember is to do it regularly.
How can I relax?
Relaxation is a useful tool, either used alone or in conjunction with other strategies. The most common form of relaxation exercise involves progressive muscle relaxation. This involves consciously focusing on one area of the body at a time, clenching the muscles, and then relaxing them. When relaxing your muscles, imagine all the tension flowing from your body. This exercise can be performed lying down or sitting.
Relaxation can also mean listening to music, stroking your pet, having a nap or reading a good book.
A meditation program will also prepare you to manage both physical and mental stress and will help to recharge your system.
The most important thing is to set aside time for it to happen.
How can I practise ‘realistic thinking’?
Beliefs and thoughts determine the intensity of our feelings when faced with a stressful situation. When we are experiencing extreme feelings of stress, it is often because we are having extreme thoughts. For example, extreme feelings of hopelessness and frustration can be a result of thinking, ‘I can’t stand it. I’m never going to get this done in time.’ As we overestimate the consequences of any event we become increasingly stressed.
To begin to think realistically try the following:
- Think about what is making you feel this way
- Question how likely it is that this will happen
- Ask what is the worst possible outcome
- Consider the likelihood of the outcome in the scheme of things-look at the ‘big picture.’
- This simple exercise can be helpful in changing the way we think, and therefore feel, in stressful situations
Can I re-organise my time?
We can reduce the amount of stress we experience by using our time and energy more effectively. A realistic list of things to do for the day is a good start. Allow ample time to get things on your list done. It is important to acknowledge that you can only do so much in a given period. Setting priorities and learning to slow down are essential ingredients in reducing your level of stress.
Are there real problems that I need to solve?
Often, we can identify a clear trigger for our stress, such as financial issues or relationship problems. If this is the case, structured problem solving can help. Write the problem down, and then brainstorm a list of possible solutions. Be creative – don’t worry if the solutions sound silly. Next, go through each solution in turn and write down the pros and cons of each one. This will help you to identify the best solution to your problem. Put the solution into action, and then evaluate it. If it hasn’t worked, try the next-best solution on your list.
Talk To Someone
We often cope better with our problems and life stresses by talking to and sharing our feelings with other people. This may be as simple as talking to your partner or best friend. Other people may find regular sessions with a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist helpful. Don’t let misconceptions about mental illness stop you from seeking help.
Where do I go for help?
Mental Health Information Line
1300 794 991
Anxiety Disorders Information Line
1300 794 992
Your local doctor (GP)
Translating & Interpreting Service
(TIS) 131 450
Please call the Mental Health Information Line through the Telephone Interpreter Service (TIS). Free to Australian citizens or permanent residents.
This information is for educational purposes. As neither brochures nor websites can diagnose people it is always important to obtain professional advice and/or help when needed.
This information may be reproduced with an acknowledgement to WayAhead – Mental Health Association.
The Association encourages feedback and welcomes comments about the information provided.