“Stress: The confusion created when the mind overrides the body’s basic desire to choke the living daylights out of some jerk who desperately deserves it” - Anon
What is stress - and is it good or bad? Even the word produces a reaction in many of us. The dictionary defines stress as ‘a demand on physical or mental energy’. Stress can be generated externally e.g. by work, other people, enforced changes. It can also be generated internally e.g. by our lifestyle, personality or expectations.
It’s widely believed that we need a certain amount of stress to perform well. But how do we handle the pressure when external demands become continuous or excessive? And what do we do about internally generated stress?
“Stress is when you wake up screaming and you realise you haven’t fallen asleep yet.” - Anon
Reducing internal stress and becoming more in harmony with yourself will improve your ability to manage external pressures. The pace of change and competition in today’s world guarantees that most of us will be subjected to increasing pressure and stress. Our tips will help you make life-enhancing changes to your patterns of behaviour to reduce your stress levels.
Are You stressed?
Some people respond to stress with excitement. They like the buzz and can get addicted to it. Others feel anxious and want to avoid it. Whatever your immediate response, there are long-term effects that will usually cause health problems, such as headaches, ulcers, chronic indigestion, fatigue and heart problems.
What causes stress? There are two aspects to the causes of stress:
- Stressors - events and situations that may be challenging
- Responses - the way that each person responds to those events.
Everyone experiences stress in different situations and at different times. So it's not possible to be sure that a particular event will always cause stress. One person might be motivated and stimulated by redundancy and see it as a great opportunity. That same person might get incredibly stressed by small children. Another might find redundancy devastating whilst being able to cope happily with a class of 30 5-year-olds. But there are common situations that cause stress, depending upon the individual.
You may feel there is nothing you can do about your level of stress. But though you might be unable to change the stressors in your life, you have a lot of control over your responses and can significantly reduce your level of stress by changing these responses.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” - Viktor Frankl
How to reduce stress
Start by identifying the causes of stress in your life. These can come from a number of sources:
- the environment
- your behaviour
- your skills and capabilities
- your beliefs
- your sense of self.
Then look at what is within your control and what isn't. Some things you won't be able to change - bills will keep arriving, your children might get into trouble, you may lose your job etc. It might help to keep a stress journal, noting when you feel stressed and what was happening at the time. Useful things to record are:
- the cause of your stress
- how you felt (both physically and emotionally)
- what was your response
- what did you do to feel better.
After a while you will begin to notice patterns that help you understand what’s happening and give you ideas for how to change. Here are some suggestions:
Look at the list of common stressors and identify those situations that might cause you stress. They may be outside your control but there are still some actions you can take:
- Notice what aspects of your physical environment cause you stress and change those that you can. For example, if you find yourself continually being upset by the news, you might stop watching or even get rid of the TV altogether. If going to a crowded shopping centre on Saturday stresses you, do more shopping online.
- Notice which people add to your stress levels. Can you limit the amount of time you spend with them or even stop seeing them altogether?
- Avoid conversations that repeatedly make you angry or upset, such as religion or politics.
Of course you can’t always avoid people or situations: then you need to change your behaviour or learn new skills.
- Change your perspective - changing the way that you look at a situation can reduce or remove the stress completely. You can reframe a problem into an opportunity e.g. instead of being cross at the long queue you might use the time to reflect on all that is going well in your life. Or you might consider the bigger picture - it is almost always worth asking how important this particular stressful situation will be in the longer term.
- Notice your thoughts - how you think about things and what you say to yourself has a big impact on how you feel. Thoughts like "there's too much to do", "I hate it when people argue", "why can't people be on time", are going to generate negative feelings that will increase the likelihood that you will get stressed about what's happening.
- Do more of what you do well - you might notice that sometimes you deal with stress really well. Look for ways to extend your skill to other areas where you currently have problems.
- Adopt healthier ways of dealing with stress - you may notice that you have some ways of dealing with stress in the short term but which might not help overall. For example, smoking or drinking, taking sleeping pills or other drugs, eating or shopping binges, endlessly watching TV or playing computer games. These are not necessarily all “bad” but can often increase your levels of stress in the longer term. Look for healthier alternatives that work for you – relaxation exercises, meditation, yoga, etc.
“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.” - Ovid
- Accept things you can't change - sometimes, there is nothing you can do. You can't change an economic crisis or bad weather, yet it is surprising how often people get stressed about such things. It might be difficult, but the best thing is to accept such things as they are.
Skills and Capabilities
- Know your limitations - one of the most powerful skills you can learn is that of self-awareness. When you know your limitations you can ensure that you do not allow yourself to be pushed beyond them.
- Learn how to express your feelings - we often create stress for ourselves by bottling up our feelings. Learn how to express your feelings in an open, honest and respectful way.
- Learn assertiveness skills - if you find that you often put other people's needs first, you are likely to be storing up problems for yourself in the future. Learn to be more assertive about getting your own needs met.
- Learn breathing techniques that will immediately reduce stress when practised. Click here for example techniques.
Beliefs have a major impact on how we respond to stressful situations, often without us being aware that it is happening. Here are some examples that can cause problems:
- Beliefs about self - “I ought to be able to do this"; "I should have said no"; "I'm no good at…"; "I must make a good impression".
- Beliefs about others - "people shouldn't be so rude"; "kids today have no respect"; "people are always taking advantage"; "he ought to do it like I asked".
- Beliefs about the world - "trains in this country are rubbish"; "it always rains in Wales"; "the world is a dangerous place".
Some people believe that you can’t change beliefs; that they are programmed in. We find that changing beliefs is often the key to making profound and lasting change. Watch for words like “should”, “never”, “everyone”, “always”, “must” and “can’t”. It isn't always easy to make changes on your own and this is an area where coaching can be of considerable help.
“All generalisations are false, including this one" - Mark Twain
Sense of Self
How we are in the world has a big impact on how much stress affects us. For example, are you a perfectionist? Perfectionism is a major cause of stress: it can paralyse you and keep you from accomplishing your goals and this will lead to dissatisfaction and stress. Or you might be the sort of person who wants what other people have; again, you will generate stress. Or perhaps you are someone who is nagged by the feeling that you are not good enough; that you should be “better” in some way. This “better” is usually vague and undefined and is often generated in our childhood – by parents, teachers and other well-meaning adults.
The answer is not easy. We usually believe that this is “who I am” and that it can’t be changed. The good news is that it can be changed. See how coaching can help
“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” - Chinese Proverb
When stress becomes too much to deal with, people sometimes experience panic attacks. These can take many forms and come with a range of symptoms such as heart palpitations, feeling faint, going numb, trembling, sweating and dizziness. Whatever the feeling, there is usually a strong urge to escape from wherever the attack began. If you experience what you think is a panic attack, we advise that you consult your doctor to ensure that there is nothing physically wrong. Then there are plenty of things you can do to manage an attack. You can reduce the likelihood of future attacks by following the tips on how to reduce stress. Usually the causes of panic attacks are more complicated than simple stressors in your current life and it may be worthwhile working with a coach or counsellor to understand the picture and overcome the problem.
How coaching can help
The reason that we get stressed is rarely simple. Its foundation is likely to be a complicated interaction of who we are, how we think and what we believe. The foundation is laid down in our childhood, evolves throughout our lives, and determines how we respond to any stressors in the present.
That makes it very difficult to understand all the issues when you are in the middle of them. With a coach, you can step back and look at the bigger picture, see blind spots and make connections. A coach can then help you to clear away personal obstacles, take action to get back into balance and regain your self-confidence and self-belief.
"No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it" - Albert Einstein
"Got a nagging feeling that your life could be more fulfilling? Want to change direction but aren't sure how to do it? Here's how to jump start your new life today... Hire a personal coach." - Modern Maturity