how to handle stress


Life can seem full of demands that come from all angles – work, relationships, kids, school, bills and the list goes on.   In the vast majority of instances, we cope and adjust to the challenges and continue to live well.   In fact, a certain level of pressure is desirable and can even help to motivate us and boost our productivity.  When the pressures start to mount or endure without an end in sight, that’s when we can run into problems. 

We throw a lot of different words around to describe feeling stressed - pressured, stretched, swamped, overwhelmed or strained.   Essentially, we experience stress whenever the demands being made of us (either real or imagined) feel greater than our ability to cope.   Regardless of the words we use, stress is generally considered unpleasant and it is largely a physiological experience with emotional and behavioural consequences.  There are four common types of stress and we can experience these across all areas of life.

  • Situational - Stressful situations where you have little control, like very bad weather.
  • Anticipatory - Worrying about something that might happen in the future.
  • Encounter - Stress that revolves around people, like having an interaction with an unpleasant work colleague, or bumping into a person you would really rather not see.
  • Time-related - Worrying about a lack of time to do what is expected of you.

Occasional bouts of acute stress do little harm if we find ways to relax once the problems pass and our body can return to its pre-stressed state.  But when pressures go on with little or no respite, stress can become a negative force. 

The type of stress we have to be cautious about is chronic stress. This type of stress comes when we face challenges over an extended period, that take a heavy toll and feel inescapable.  A stressful job, chronic illness, financial strain or an unhappy home life can trigger chronic stress.  While stress itself is not a disease, chronic or unmanageable stress can lead to physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms, like tension, fatigue, indecision, trouble sleeping and reduced productivity.   If not addressed, chronic stress can lead to mental health problems like anxiety and depression, as well as physical effects such as heart disease, pain and headaches.

Learning ways to manage stress is something everyone can do to stay emotionally well.   Here are five ideas to help to manage stress.

  1. Know your triggers.   Identify the things that cause stress for you - triggers might include late nights, deadlines, feeling unwell, or conflict with family or colleagues.
  2.  Find your rhythm.   Have set, predictable routines, such as regular times for exercise and relaxation, eating healthy meals, bedtimes, catching up with friends and work.
  3. Hang out with good people and have fun.  Spend more time with happy, uplifting friends and family. 
  4. Coach yourself with self-talk.  Instead of saying, “I can’t cope”, try instead, “I am doing the best I can with what I have available”.
  5. Get support.   Sometimes, life does get really tough and navigating your way through the challenges can feel overwhelming.  Help is available and a clinical psychologist can provide the support and right tools to manage whatever life throws your way.

by Lydia Rigano

also in DUOMagazine March 2018