Stress and Anxiety
Today's busy lifestyles mean that, for most of us, juggling is the key to managing our time and priorities. But at what price? Anxiety and stress are increasingly prevalent here in the UK, with one in five people suffering from stress of one sort or other at any given time.
There are a few misconceptions relating to stress which often leads to shame and makes it all feel worse.
Anxiety and stress are serious in the UK; one in five people suffer from it in one form or another. However, it is not a mental illness but a natural reaction to pressures applied and our system can break down sometimes.
That said, it isn't a physical illness either, but if it is prolonged or in excess it can lead to mental and physical ill health such as depression, ulcers, panic attacks and other symptoms
Stress is the "wear and tear" our bodies experience as we adjust to our continually changing environment; it has physical and emotional effects on us and can create positive or negative feelings. As a positive influence, stress can help us take action; it can result in a new awareness and an exciting new perspective. As a negative influence, it can result in feelings of distrust, rejection, anger, and depression, which in turn can lead to health problems and symptoms such as headaches, upset stomach, rashes, insomnia, ulcers, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. With the death of a loved one, the birth of a child, a job promotion, or a new relationship, we experience stress as we readjust our lives. In so adjusting to different circumstances, stress will help or hinder us depending on how we react to it.
It isn't all doom and gloom though! As mentioned above, positive stress adds anticipation and excitement to life, and we all thrive under a certain amount of stress. Clients that have presented with panic attacks look amazed when I point out how similar their symptoms are with feelings of being in love! Butterflies in the stomach, racing heart, feeling breathless…The difference is, we know why we feel these things when they are in that context and accept them without fear. I also ask clients would they like to live in a place where the sun always shines and the rain never falls. They usually cry, "YES!" I say, "Well, you can. It's called a Desert."
We all need contrast, to develop and enrich our lives. Even deadlines, competitions, confrontations, and even our frustrations and sorrows add depth and enrichment to our lives. Our goal is not to eliminate stress and anxiety but to learn how to manage it and how to use it to help us. Insufficient stress acts as a depressant and may leave us feeling bored or dejected; on the other hand, excessive stress may leave us feeling anxious and "tied up in knots." What we need to do is find the optimal level of stress which will individually motivate but not overwhelm each of us.
There is no single level of stress that is the same for all people. We are all individual creatures with unique requirements. What is distressing to one may be a joy to another. And even when we agree that a particular event is distressing, we are likely to differ in our physiological and psychological responses to it. The person who loves to trouble-shoot and moves from job site to job site would be stressed in a job which was stable and routine, whereas the person who thrives under stable conditions would very likely be stressed on a job where duties were highly varied. Also, our personal stress requirements and the amount which we can tolerate before we become distressed changes with our ages. It has been found that most illness is related to unrelieved stress.
If you are experiencing anxiety and stress symptoms, you have gone beyond your optimal stress level; you need to reduce the stress in your life and/or improve your ability to manage it.
To help people identify unrelieved stress but being aware of its effect on our lives is not sufficient for reducing its harmful effects. Just as there are many sources of stress, there are many possibilities for its management and treatment. However, all require work towards change: changing the source of stress and/or changing your reaction to it.
So how do we do that?
Become aware of your stressors and your emotional and physical reactions. Notice your distress. Don't ignore it. Don't gloss over your problems. Determine what events distress you. What are you telling yourself about the meaning of these events? Determine how your body responds to the stress. Do you become nervous or physically upset? If so, in what specific ways?
Recognise what you can change.
- Can you change your stressors by avoiding or eliminating them completely?
- Can you reduce their intensity (manage them over a period of time instead of on a daily or weekly basis)? - Can you shorten your exposure to stress (take a break, leave the physical premises)?
- Can you devote the time and energy necessary to making a change (goal setting, time management techniques, and delayed gratification strategies may be helpful here)?
You can reduce the intensity of your emotional reactions to stress and anxiety.
The stress reaction is triggered by your perception of danger...physical danger and/or emotional danger. Are you viewing your stressors in exaggerated terms and/or taking a difficult situation and making it a disaster? Are you expecting to please everyone? Are you overreacting and viewing things as absolutely critical and urgent? Do you feel you must always prevail in every situation?
Work at adopting more moderate views; try to see the stress as something you can cope with rather than something that overpowers you. Try to temper your excess emotions. Put the situation in perspective. Do not labour on the negative aspects and the "what if's."
Try learning to moderate your physical reactions to stress. Slow, deep breathing will bring your heart rate and respiration back to normal. Relaxation techniques can reduce muscle tension. A balanced whole food diet and regular exercise can also help to relieve stress. And remember to stay hydrated!
Breathing Exercise -
Try breathing in for a count of 5, hold for 3, then breath out for a count of 5.
If you find this a little difficult to begin with breath in for 3, hold for 3 and out for 3.
The idea is for you just to concentrate on your breathing being regular and relaxed to begin with and build up from there to a comfortable level for yourself.
Medications, when prescribed by a physician, can help in the short term in moderating your physical reactions. However, they alone are not the answer. Learning to moderate these reactions on your own is a preferable long-term solution.
Build up your strength!
Exercise three to four times a week. Eat well-balanced, nutritious meals. Avoid excessive caffeine, and other stimulants. Try and find a work/life balance that suits you. Take breaks and get away when you can. Get enough sleep! Be as consistent with your sleep schedule as possible.
Lastly, develop some mutually supportive friendships/relationships and a good supervisor. Pursue realistic goals which are meaningful to you, rather than goals others have for you that you do not share. Expect some frustrations, failures, and sorrows. Always be kind and gentle with yourself - How else can we give to others if we don't have anything to give to ourselves?
I cannot make myself clear enough with my clients that everything we say about ourselves is heard by our own subconscious part of our mind, good and bad; so from now on - say nice things only!! Be kind, especially to yourself.
If after trying all of that, you are still struggling, then why don't you give me a call and we can chat? And come up with ideas on the best way to help you.
It costs you nothing for a confidential, initial consultation and we can both see if therapy is the right way for you to go forward to the happy life, you deserve!
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