The fact is, stress is an everyday event for most of us. Stress is any change or demand that you must adapt to, ranging from having to be at work on time or getting less sleep than we need, to experiencing a relationship breakdown, or any other major crisis in our lives.
If we experience a short term stressful event, the brain triggers a series of changes in the body known as the “fight-flight” response. These include changes that may sound familiar to you – increase heart rate and breathing rate, muscle tension, and maybe even experiencing ‘butterflies’ in the stomach. These are normal physical changes that occur to help us deal with a challenging situation.
When stress is ongoing, or we experience one stressful event after another with little time to recover, we may start to experience symptoms like moodiness, sleep disturbance, stomach upset, anxiety, anger and irritability, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and feeling constantly overwhelmed, ‘burned out’, or low in confidence. This is when it begins to affect our lives.
HOW A PSYCHOLOGIST CAN HELP
A clinical psychologist can teach techniques to manage stress more effectively, while taking into consideration the type of stress facing the person. A variety of approaches might be used including:
- Body awareness, relaxation strategies, and meditation to address physiological symptoms.
- Cognitive therapy tools address the unhelpful thinking which often arises from and maintains unhelpful reactions to stressors.
- Problem solving, assertiveness, goal setting and time management address the environmental sources of stress head on.
- Lifestyle changes help with recovery and relapse prevention.
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TIPS TO SELF-MANAGE STRESS
Learning how to manage stress is most important for both your physical and mental health. Fortunately, there are a number of helpful techniques that are simple and you can start applying right away; for example:
- Look for warning signs. Tune in to yourself. Muscle tension, headaches, feeling overwhelmed or out of control, feeling moody, irritable and insomnia are some common signs of stress.
- Know your triggers. Identify the things that cause you stress, so you can anticipate them and prepare yourself to cope better beforehand or even find ways to avoid them. Triggers might include late nights, seeing particular people, deadlines or feeling unwell.
- Find your rhythm. Having predictable routines in your day or week, such as regular times for exercise and relaxation, eating meals, bedtimes, catching up with friends and work.
- Hang out with good people. Sharing time with people you care about and who care about you can help you feel less stressed. Spend mote time with happy, uplifting friends and family and less with people who make demands of you or bring your mood down.
- Look after yourself. Eat healthy foods and avoid alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Get moving – try walking, yoga, gym classes or swimming. Do things that are fun.
- Coach yourself with self-talk. Instead of telling yourself negative things like, “I cant cope”, try a more helpful approach like, “I am doing the best I can with what I have available”. Keep things in perspective too, ‘In the overall scheme of things, this doesn’t matter too much”.
- Relax. Unwind the body and mind using techniques like relaxation, meditation or yoga. Or try absorbing yourself in a relaxing activity, like watering the garden or reading a book.