Most of us experience stress at times in our lives. A certain amount of stress can be a useful tool for moving us forward, motivating us to achieve or empowering us to make changes. However, if we allow stress to reach unhealthy levels, the effects become less positive, impacting on our personal relationships, our work and our health.
One of the outcomes of excessive stress can be an alteration in our responses, where we act in ways that are not appropriate or helpful. For instance, the ‘fight, flight, freeze’ response (also called hyperarousal or the acute stress response) which was first described by American Psychologist Walter Bradford Cannon:
Fight – aggressive, combative, angry or argumentative behaviour in situations that trigger stress
Flight – becoming withdrawn, uncommunicative or physically ill – even sleeping too much in an attempt to escape from stressful situations
Freeze – feeling so overwhelmed that we are unable to react at all, becoming stuck in the moment and unable to function
Many people think that high levels of stress are just something we have to put up with; blaming their busy lives, the economy and the demands of work in a ‘never out of reach’ society. Perhaps we can’t and shouldn’t avoid stress altogether, but we can learn to manage our stress levels and the effects of stress on our lives.
How can we do this?
‘People form habits and habits form futures’
Speaker, Mike Litman
No one is born stressed. Stress is something we learn to do to ourselves. It becomes a habitual reaction to the things that we allow to push our stress button.
Understanding how we ‘do’ stress – we may not be able to change the situation, what we can change is our response to it. Realising that, for instance, being late for an appointment causes us a stress response of yelling at other drivers (fight response) or arriving flustered and unable to concentrate (freeze response) is the first step towards changing our habitual behaviour within that situation.
Stress is a very personal thing and none of us experience it the same way. It helps to recognise our own responses. Stop and take your ‘stress temperature’ from time to time! Are you feeling angry or upset? Have you become quiet – withdrawing from a conversation or not contributing to a meeting? Have you been unable to even begin a difficult task? How do you feel physically ill – is your heart pounding, do you feel tearful or have a headache?
Handling Stress – we do have choices, we can:
Here are some tips:
Think about how you would prefer to react to stressful situations
Watch how other people who don’t seem to be stressed react in the same situation – what can you learn about how they choose to behave? Practice ‘being like them’ the next time!
Learn to say no sometimes
Avoid people who stress you, or at least limit the time you spend with them
If there is a particular subject of discussion that pushes your stress button, then agree to disagree and ask that the topic is dropped. In a social situation, tune out for a bit until the subject is changed!
If the ‘bad news’ in the media makes you feel stressed, listen to less TV or radio, give up reading the papers!
Re-arrange your week so that stressful tasks are spread out rather than crammed into one day
Eat That Frog!! (Book title, author – Brian Tracey) Get difficult/important talks out of the way early in the day so you don’t spend large parts of the day worrying over them
Breathe! Breathing exercises can be done anywhere and are very effective
Relax your body – we tend to tense up when stressed, so consciously relax your head and shoulders. Think about your overall posture and make sure you can breathe easily and deeply
Take up yoga or meditation. Yoga is great for achieving harmony, balance and training your breathing. Meditation allows your brain to relax and break out of the kind of mental stress cycle that can keep us awake at night.
Managing our stress levels has the potential to improve our relationships, allow us to be effective and happy at work as well as protect our health and wellbeing. If stress is affecting your life and wellbeing, contact Linda on firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about how coaching may help you.