Ongoing, untreated stress can lead to mental health issues.
What is stress?
Stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources that the individual is able to mobiliseRichard S Lazarus
According to Lazarus’ definition, we feel stressed when circumstances feel outside of our control – when they’re too big to handle. At times of stress, it can be so easy to get overwhelmed by focussing just on the problem. In doing so, we risk making a mountain out of a molehill. Even if it is a mountain, we can feel powerless to climb it.
Have a think about what causes you the most stress?
Is it relationship issues? Money issues? Time pressures? Too many responsibilities? Health concerns?
We all have different stress triggers at different points in our lives, so it’s a good idea to get some awareness of what they are for you. If you’re keen to develop some strategies to better prevent and manage your stress, start off by noticing when you get the most stressed: times, situations, people you’re with, etc. Once you get a clear understanding for yourself, you might be able to start to consider what you can do about it.
How can stress affect us?
When we experience stress, our reactions are primarily governed by the area of the brain that controls our fight or flight reactions – the amygdala. In addition, when stressed, the brain can become flooded with the hormone cortisol. This can be very helpful when we’re in danger and need to react swiftly, but it is not so good if we are stressed. Frequently our brains are reacting in this way, even when there is no real danger.
Sometimes our stress levels are peaking too often because:
- We’re desperately trying to multi-task and therefore put too much pressure on our brain to spread its attention and capacities too thin.
- We’re getting ramped up in arguments causing our stress levels to simmer away throughout the day.
- We’re so disorganised that we are always running late and feel under pressure as a result.
Our expectations (of ourselves and others) are unrealistic and lead to constant disappointment.
Ongoing high levels of stress are not good for our brain. Stress can affect our memory and concentration, and it can make us vulnerable to clinical anxiety and depression. We may start to self-medicate with alcohol, drugs or food, which can lead to a host of other health and relationship issues.
Stress can affect us in many ways. For example:
- Emotionally – anxiety, depression, tension and anger.
- The way we think – poor concentration, forgetfulness, indecisiveness, apathy, and hopelessness.
- Behaviourally – increased drinking and smoking, insomnia, obsessive-compulsivebehaviour, nervousness, and gambling.
- Physically – cardiovascular disease (although some research now disputes this), weight problems, increased accidents and safety risks.
According to Lazarus’ definition, we are stressed when circumstances feel outside of our control – when they are too big to handle. At times of stress, by focussing only on the problem it can be easy to become overwhelmed.
We all have different stress triggers at various points in our lives, and so it’s a good idea to become aware of what your personal triggers are. If you are keen to develop some strategies to manage or even prevent your stress, begin by noticing when you become the most stressed. It could be certain times, situations, or people you are with.
Once you get a clear understanding for yourself, you can begin to investigate what you can do about it.
A simple strategy to try…
A strategy that I learnt a long time ago for managing stress was this idea of:
- CHECK IT
- CHANGE IT
- CHUCK IT
When you’re feeling stressed, stop and check out what it is that is causing you stress, think about whether there is anything you can do to change the situation, problem or outcome? If there is, make a plan and take action. If there isn’t, chuck it!
If you can’t change the situation, spending time worrying about it isn’t going to help. Rather, decide not to focus on the negative, be more realistic in your approach. The two things you do have control over is your thinking about the situation, as well as your reaction to it – so chuck the worry and focus on what you can do.
Sometimes life’s events are overwhelming and difficult. For more complex stress you may need some other strategies. Over the coming months we will look at a range of other techniques to help you manage your stress levels.
However, ongoing, unmanaged stress can lead to burnout, anxiety disorders and depression. If this is something that may be affecting you, don’t wait. If you’re in need of additional support, please contact your Employee Assistance Provider (EAP) for a chance to chat about strategies that may work for you.