Do you feel stressed? If you do, you’re not alone. According to Statistics New Zealand, stress affects one in five employees and three in 10 employers. These are people who report feeling stressed often or always — and that is just in the workplace.
What causes stress?
Outside the work environment there are plenty of other stressors.
Significant life events such as:
- Changing jobs
- Moving house
- Getting married
- Having a baby
- Raising kids
- Building a career
Day-to-day situations such as:
- Financial worries
- Relationship conflict
- Taking on too much
- Avoiding conflict or being a people pleaser
- Being isolated and having nobody else to turn to
As well as external stressors, thought patterns can contribute to feeling stressed
- Perfectionism – “I have to get this right…”
- Rigid attitude – seeing everything as black or white
- Negative self-talk – “I know I’m going to mess up…”
- Lack of confidence – “I don’t have what it takes…”
What is stress?
Stress is an evolutionary response; a call to action. It’s what drove us to hunt for food or fight invading tribes to survive during our cave-dwelling days. We feel stressed when we have a problem ahead but we are not sure we can cope. Our endocrine system releases hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline which create alertness and prepare us for ‘fight or flight’ – a bit like an extra injection of fuel into the engine. We use these chemicals to help us deal with the problem and then our bodies return to normal.
Stress shouldn’t be ignored
Short term stress is normal and creates action. It helps us be productive and push ourselves further. We can cope and even thrive when we experience short term stress. However, long term, or chronic stress is not a good thing. We are not designed to tolerate ongoing stress and if we do we will suffer. Chronic stress can create friction in relationships, contribute to weight problems, lead to heart disease, cause sleep problems, depression, or exacerbate problems like eczema. Chronic stress is bad for you.
Stress is not always easy to recognise and much like the proverbial iceberg, we are often unaware of how much we have going on until symptoms arise. If you are experiencing any of the following, your stress levels could be higher than you had realised:
- Irritability or intolerance
- Angry outbursts
- Anxious or racing thoughts
- Loss of sex drive
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleep problems
- Preoccupation with worry
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Loss of appetite
- Tightness in the chest / neck / shoulders
- Upset stomach
- Feeling run down
- Consuming more alcohol, drugs or cigarettes than normal.
How we treat stress
At Auckland City Therapy we don’t prescribe a one-size-fits-all approach. We will help you identify and understand causal factors that are contributing to how you feel and then address them in a way that works for you. We will help you:
Identify faulty thinking
We can be our own worst enemy with our thoughts and recognising our faulty thinking can be a significant factor in beginning to feel better. Without even realising we often have unrealistic or outdated core beliefs such as, “I should be able to manage this / I’m weak if I can’t cope”. Historical factors that may not have been considered can also play a part. For example, perhaps your parents had high expectations and you are still living by their standards, or maybe your siblings were successful so you feel you must be too. The way we think affects how we feel and can often create unnecessary pressure and stress.
Causal factors such as difficult relationships, conflict, taking on too much, can all play a part in feeling stressed. Sometimes we avoid addressing things because we don’t know how or we fear the worst. Learning how to manage conflict with a spouse or colleague can help alleviate, or at least improve a difficult situation. Sometimes we just can’t say “no” and end up taking on too much, so there may be benefit to improving assertiveness.
If we can’t address the stressors in our lives then understanding and avoiding the triggers can make for a more peaceful time. It is not helpful or realistic to avoid everything that causes us stress, but there are some things that we just don’t have to do. For example, we don’t have to be involved in every community event, we don’t have to go on holiday with our in-laws, we don’t have to meet everybody else’s demands and expectations.
If your stressors cannot be addressed or avoided there are techniques for managing how you feel that can help you cope better. It is worth remembering though that coping with stress does not mean curing stress. Usually your feelings will be indicative of the situation you are in and if your feelings are unbearable it may well be the situation that is the problem, not you. Nevertheless, having some coping strategies that get you through the toughest times can make a big difference.
Practical techniques: breathing, meditation, pausing, taking regular breaks, can help to prevent the momentum of stress building up.
Be organised: work expands to fill time, so set a start and finish time for each task.
Reality checking: talk to someone or write down, “how much does this really matter? A month from now, will this matter? What is the worst that can really happen?”
Assertiveness: avoid the trap of taking on too much, not delegating, avoiding conflict, people pleasing. Remind yourself that if you say no to somebody the world will not end; if you have a heart attack your boss will replace you. Prioritise yourself and your well-being.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle: eat well, sleep well, exercise, moderate caffeine and alcohol.
It is easy to let things such as exercise, meditation, regular breaks slip by the wayside when work/home demands are high. However, these things are so important that you must make them high priority – add them to your busy schedule and treat them with the same or greater importance as the other things on your to-do list. When you are physically healthy you have more capacity to cope than when you are run down.
We can help you manage your stress
When you are in the middle of it all it is very hard to find a way out. If you are suffering from stress, don’t ignore it. We can help.