We all have stress, and not just the people who leave home every morning to travel to a workplace. It also can stem from operating your own business or side business, volunteering, or managing all the activities that come with running a household.
So with any type of work there’s going to be stress, and with personal stress or family stress it’s relationships that are always at the core.
Stress affects who we are at a deep level, down to our values and belief system. It can also impact our self-esteem, relationships, and sense of security and purpose. Stress can make us feel out of control and overwhelmed.
Ideally we want to be able to look at stress as a positive influence. Stress doesn’t need to take us over the top. For example, feeling some pressure can help us get things done in a timely way, and energize us in the process.
But when there’s so much stress that it threatens our health, then it becomes a negative. If stress is making us unproductive or feeling down we want to pay attention to that, such as getting short-tempered with people or frustrated with ourselves, losing our sense of humor, or having physical symptoms like headaches or changing sleep patterns.
Take a deeper look
Where does your stress come from? Start by listing the first 10 or 12 stressors you can think of, then pull out what you feel are the top three. You may be tempted to just start by listing three, but then you might miss something important.
Give yourself the chance to think more broadly. You may be surprised about some of the things that have been simmering under the surface for awhile. If you’re stumped, some of the most typical stressors our clients talk about are having trouble managing time, money worries, relationship and personal issues, and feeling out of control.
Sometimes the stressors are about pressure to perform at work, while at home or in relationships it might be about overstepping boundaries or feeling pressure around household chores.
Any responsibility can bring stress – job security and advancing in your career; taking care of the home, your possessions, and your dependents; making sure things are in good repair; staying organized, and paying bills on time. Dealing with change can be one of the biggest stressors.
Next, look at the ways you typically react to these stressors. Are you more prone to fight (get defensive, blame the other person), flight (withdraw emotionally, physically leave the room), or freeze (ignore the problem, mask your feelings with self-harming behaviors)? Recognizing these patterns is the first step towards growth and change.
When you’re feeling stressed and out of control, it helps to focus on what you can do. Start with these ideas:
- Take a moment before you speak, and make the effort to be friendly and polite, even if it feels forced.
- Find a place to talk about what’s causing your stress, ideally with a counselor, or maybe a friend, boss or co-worker, or a safe family member.
- Practice relaxing breathing techniques, like taking a breath for four, holding for four, and releasing to the count of six. (You can do this anywhere and no one needs to know what you’re up to.)
- Book a massage, go on a nature walk, or just take a break.
- Shift your morning and evening routines to get more sleep. Ask a counselor or doctor for help or ideas. You’ll be much more resilient to stress when you‘re rested.
- Choose to spend more time with positive, optimistic people who support you and help you solve problems, and who you can help in turn.
- Set or reinforce a boundary with someone in your life.
- Be more mindful of staying in the present moment instead of worrying about the past or the future.
- Nourish your body with nutritious foods and eat and drink regularly to stay hydrated and keep your blood sugar balanced.
- Incorporate enjoyable movement into your day.
By using these strategies to stay on top of our small stressors, then the big ones won’t lead to relapse or other serious health issues, or to relationship problems in all areas of our life.
There will always be stress, but it doesn’t have to take us down. We can learn from our responses and build resilience to handle whatever life brings.