UUUUgggghhhh. I’m just feeling so frazzled, overwhelmed and on edge all the time. I feel like I’m spinning in circles and getting nowhere.
Sound familiar? You are not alone. Stress is a fast-growing epidemic in our busy-minded society that is not only impacting our physical health but also our relationships, work life, and our enjoyment of life. In working to understand stress, identify your triggers and build on coping strategies that you can use to fight back against stress…it takes conscious effort but I promise you, it’s oh so worth it!
Let’s break it down. What is stress?
Stress is a normal response to any event or perception of an event that makes you feel threatened or off balance. When you sense danger (e.g. a huge wooly mammoth chasing you down) your body goes into rapid high gear and what results is an automatic defensive mode (you can thank your ancestors for this) known as “fight or flight”, or in other words, the stress reaction. Our stress response is our body’s way of protecting us in an emergency. When your stress response works well, it can help you stay focused, alert, motivated (e.g. when coming face to face with a giant wooly mammoth in the woods) and to think quickly and escape the emergency situation. The concern, however, is when this stress response of “fight-or-flight” becomes the norm and over time the stress overload may creep up on you, and become uncontrollable and unbearable to manage.
Not only is it important to understand what stress means, but it is also important to understand the warning signs and to learn how to recognize when your stress response is in overdrive.
If you are experiencing any or all of the following signs or symptoms it may be important to take a closer look at how stress might be impacting you:
· Inability to concentrate
· Poor judgment/difficulty making decisions
· Persistent Worry
· Anxious behaviors and responses
· Inability to relax; agitation
· Low mood
· Loss of sex drive
· Aches or Pains
· Changes in digestion
· Nausea, dizziness
· Rapid heart beat; increased perspiration
· Eating more/less
· Sleeping more/less
· Substance use or abuse
· Compulsive behaviors (nail biting; pacing)
How do I cope with my stress and overcome these distressing symptoms? I’m sick and tired of feeling sick, tired and STRESSED.
Getting on top of stress and reducing your body’s stress response is important for your physical health, mental health, relationships with others, and most of all, your happiness and sanity! Below are some coping strategies to try today.
Avoid Unnecessary Stress. Set boundaries, limits, and be realistic in the expectations you place on yourself and on those around you. In everyday life it is important to distinguish between “shoulds” (ohhh, the guilt) and “musts” and allow yourself permission to step away from situations that cause you to be overwhelmed or frazzled (at least until you can compose your thoughts, recognize your limits and delegate if possible).
Regain Control of the Situation. If you can’t avoid the situation, face the task head on. Avoid procrastination, voice your concerns and/or needs to those around you, compromise with others, and strive to find resolution quickly and efficiently.
Adapt to Stressors. Re-frame your thinking about what is stressing you out. To do this, focus on positives, look at the big picture, and identify your strengths and values that are important to you and will help you to face the challenge.
Accept the situation. Try your best to avoid perfectionism and acknowledge what you can’t control within the situation. Acceptance is not considered giving up.
Maintain Good Physical Health. Be sure to engage in regular exercise whether it’s a walk around the block or training for a half marathon with your best friend. Try your best to maintain a regular sleep schedule, eat a healthy diet, engage in deep breathing and try out some new relaxation techniques.
Surround Yourself with a Support Team. Don’t deal with your stress in isolation. Talk about your problems with family, friends, counselors, and coworkers. The people in your life may not realize you are experiencing a hard time managing your stress. Talk to them. Venting will help you relieve some stress and talking about your problem with others may lead to collaborative problem solving. Your friends and family may suggest solutions to your problems that you may not have previously considered.
Using these coping strategies will take practice but in trying one (or all) of them you may find your stress levels decline and your productivity and mood increase greatly. The outcome of managing your stress productively may surprise you with improved mood, more energy and more interest in activities you enjoy.
If you, or someone you love, find that your having difficulty managing stress and coping with it’s symptoms, I encourage you to seek professional counselling.
By Megan Rafuse, Psychotherapist