What is Stress?
‘Stress is a normal psychological/physical reaction to any demand or change that is imposed on us from without or within’.
Eustress: is positive stress that energizes us or excites us to take action. When you feel upset or threatened, adrenalin is released around the body to stir us up with a fear/fight/flight response which enables us to face the stressor.
Distress: is negative stress, and arises when there is too much stress over a prolonged period of time, with the result that we can be emotionally and physically ‘run down’.
What Causes Stress?
Survival Stress: was designed to energise us to ‘fight’ or ‘flee’ from a stressor, which is a common response to danger in all people and animals. Often severe ‘shock’ or ‘trauma’ may lead to Post Traumatic Stress Symptoms. (e.g. Shock & Numbness, Physical Reactions, Intrusive Memories, Avoiding behaviours etc).
Environmental Stress: This is a response to things around you that cause stress such as loud industrial noise; crowded living conditions; worry over finances; pressure from work and family; or sudden natural events like snow storms, floods or earthquakes, which all result in similar ‘fight/flight’ reactions described under ‘Survival Stress’.
Fatigue and Overwork: This kind of stress builds up over a long time and can take a hard toll on your body. It is often caused by working too long or too hard at your job(s), school, or home. Time Management difficulties along with lack of Self Care, (rest and relaxation activities), leave many people feeling ‘anxious’ and ‘out of control’ in their lives.
Internal Stress: This describes our ‘thoughts’ and ‘feelings’ in response to Stress, which may often be triggered by Grief or Loss. Common feelings include Disbelief/Shock and Denial, Fear, Anger, Helplessness, Sadness and Shame. These tumultuous feelings contribute towards ‘Internal Stress’, which is one of the most important kinds of stress to understand and manage. When we feel fearful or helpless, we often spend enormous energy worrying about things we can do nothing about or worrying for no reason at all. Some people even become addicted to the kind of hurried, tense, lifestyle that results from being under Stress. Therefore, how we think will influence our feelings positively or negatively; which can either increase or decrease our Internal Stress levels.
Recognising Early Warning Signs of Stress
“Stress” can seriously disrupt the coping ability of us all, and may affect our lives in many ways.
A) Warning Signs of those experiencing Mental Stress may include:
- Isolating oneself by avoiding people, places and events.
- Persistent worrying over little things.
- Continuous feelings of anxiety and tension.
- Feeling irritable, impatient, or angry for no apparent reason.
- Feeling sad and teary (be aware that feeling sad most of the day, every day, along with suicidal thoughts, may contribute towards a diagnosis of depression).
- Loss of enjoyment of activities and interests you previously enjoyed.
- Temporary short term memory loss with long term stress.
- Decreased concentration and confused thinking, resulting in difficulty with decision making.
- Doing risky, careless activities like excessive drinking, gambling, or drug taking to medicate the emotional pain.
B) Warning Signs of those experiencing Physical Stress may include:
- Loss of energy and feeling constantly tired.
- Changes in Sleeping Patterns (i.e. oversleeping or difficulty getting to sleep despite physical exhaustion).
- Loss of enjoyment and interest in life, people and activities that you previously enjoyed.
- Loss of appetite or over eating.
- Indigestion or stomach upsets, skin rashes, muscle tension and pain.
- Shortness of breath or shallow breathing with increased blood pressure.
C) Warning Signs of those experiencing Spiritual Stress may include:
- Feeling angry or rage towards God/Creator.
- Spiritually disconnected towards God/Creator, when you previously had a ‘faith’.
What can I do?
Although most of us experience some of these ‘Stressors’ in daily life, it is when an ongoing cluster of these symptoms can debilitate us for some time, that we need to seek help. As uncomfortable as these ‘Stress reactions’ may be, acknowledging them and talking about them to someone you trust, is an essential part of the process of healing and returning to normal life. Past experiences and individual perceptions can also contribute to the differing reactions, as not everyone reacts with the same feelings at exactly the same time.
A) Mental Health:
- Talk about your worries to a trusted partner, friend, parent, G.P.; Counsellor or Clergy, who will listen to you.
- Prioritise your tasks by setting short & long term goals to make your work habits more efficient.
- Solve problems: Try to find a solution to conflicts; and where possible set boundaries by saying ‘No’ ask for help.
- Accept offers of help, where practical.
- Take regular me off work to socialise with family and friends.
- If you live alone, visit a friend, or invite someone to stay with you for a few days.
- Plan some fun activities where you can learn to ‘laugh’ again, and avoid boredom.
B) Physical Health:
- Eat regular healthy meals, avoiding tension increasing foods like coffee, tea, chocolate, alcohol and soft drinks.
- Take time to do some cardiovascular exercise for at least ½ hour a day.
- Make sure you plan to have regular sleep patterns.
- Using simple Breathing and Muscle Relaxation strategies.
- Take time out to rest every day.
- Maintain a routine wherever possible.
C) Spiritual Health:
- Talk to your Minister/ Pastor about adapting to your worries from a spiritual perspective.
- Make some you time where you can think, meditate and reconnect with God in prayer.
- Take time out to enjoy nature (i.e. a bush walk or a swim in the sea).
Burnout Prevention Assessment
Dr R. J. Sturt, (Auckland Counsellor), in his book ‘Created for Love’, has produced the following check list, which highlights some important ways to prevent ‘Burnout’, (prolonged stress).
To Score: Record the number which best represents the right answer for you. Add up your score, and check the Evaluation Summary at the bottom of the page.
1. Do you have a day off to do what you like?
Weekly(5) Mostly (4) Frequently (3) Occasionally (1) Never (0)
2. Do you have time out for yourself to think, meditate or pray?
Daily (5) Frequently (3) Occasionally (1) Seldom or never (0)
3. Do you have good vacations? (e.g. about 3-4 weeks every year)
Every year(5) Occasionally (3) Rarely (1) Almost never (0)
4. Do you do some aerobic exercise for at least ½ hour at a time?
3-5 times a week (5) Occasionally (3) Never (0)
5. Do you do something for fun? (e.g. play a game, go to a movie/concert)
Weekly (5) Monthly (2) Occasionally (1) Rarely (0)
6. Do you practice any muscle relaxation or slow breathing technique?
Daily (5) Frequently (4) Occasionally (2) Never (0)
7. Do you take notice of any of your body messages? (e.g. symptoms; illnesses)
Always (5) Mostly (3) Occasionally (1) Seldom or never (0)
8. If Single: Do you have friends that you can share your feelings with?
Regularly (5) Frequently (4) Occasionally (3) Seldom (2) Never(0)
9. If Married, (or in a relationship): How would you describe it? Close, Intimate sharing:
Daily (5) Occasionally (3) Seldom (2) Never(0)
10. Do you share your stressors, cares, problems, needs with others or God?
Regularly (5) Frequently (3) Occasionally (2) Never(0)
11. How would you describe your ability to communicate with others?
Excellent (5) Fair, but working on it (3) Difficult (1) Poor (0)
12. Do you sleep well, (for at least 7 hours a night)?
Almost every night (3) Frequently (2) Occasionally (1) Never (0)
13. Are you able to say ‘No’ to demands on you when this is appropriate?
Always (3) Mostly (2) Seldom (1) Never (0)
14. Do you set realistic goals for your life, both short and long term?
Regularly (5) Occasionally (3) Seldom (1) Never (0)
15. Are you careful to eat a healthy balanced diet?
Always (5) Most of the time (3) Not Often (1) Lots of ‘Junk Food’ (0)
16. Is your weight appropriate for your height?
Consistently (3) Hard to keep it this way (2) You’re overweight (0)
17. How would you describe the amount of touch you get from others?
As much as you need (5) Frequently (4) Occasionally (1) Seldom (0)
18. Can you deal with anger without repressing it or dumping it on others?
Always (5) Mostly (4) Occasionally (2) Rarely (1) Never (0)
19. Do you have a good, ‘belly laugh’?
At least daily (3) Frequently (2) Seldom (1) Never (0)
20. Do you have creative hobby time? (e.g. Gardening, Reading, Music)
Weekly (4) Occasionally (2) Rarely (1) Never (0)
21. Do you nurture your self-esteem with positive self-talk?
Regularly (5) Frequently (3) Occasionally (1) Rarely or never(0)
22. Do you practice forgiving others who have hurt you?
Regularly (5) Occasionally (3) Rarely or Never (0)
23. Have you dealt with the old hurts and baggage from the past?
All that you are aware of (5) Most of it (3) A lot left (0)
Burnout Assessment Evaluation:
80-100: Unlikely to ever suffer from ‘Burnout’, providing these lifestyle practices are being used and not just a reflection of what you would like to do.
70 – 80: Reasonable coping Skills, but room for improvement.
50 – 70: Adequate coping skills, with much room for improvement.
Below 50: You are in trouble! Early signs of ‘Burnout’ are present, so it is important to seek help from a health professional like your GP and/or Counsellor.
John & Agnes Sturt (1994). Created for Love. Highland Books.
Article posted 25 July 2015
Dorothy is a counsellor and Life Coach in Invercargill.