What is Stress?
- Stress is a normal reaction to any pressure or change
- It involves physical and mental arousal which helps us respond to these pressures by motivating us and increasing our ability to focus
- Stress becomes unhealthy when it lasts for a long time or the emotional or physical aspects become overwhelming.
- Stress can make us feel uptight, angry, overwhelmed and long-term stress can lead to depression.
How to Recognise Stress
There are both physical and psychological / emotional signs of stress.
- Racing heart
- Low sex drive
- Sore muscles
- Dry mouth
Psychological and emotional signs
- Frustration, anger
- Increased anxiety and worrying
- Difficulties concentrating
- Increased irritability, snappiness
- Racing thoughts
There are two primary types of stress
- External stress occurs in response to environmental factors which are largely beyond our control, although we can learn how best to respond to these stressors. Examples of external stress include sustaining an injury, or getting a flat tire on the way to work.
- Internal stress is stress that we cause for ourselves, through negative beliefs, poor time management, poor problem-solving skills, etc. Examples of internal stress that we can cause for ourselves include:
- Imagining the ‘worst case scenario’
- Taking on more tasks than we can handle
- Leaving things to the last minute
- Poor organisation
What Can Cause Stress?
A multitude of factors can cause stress. Some of the common ones are:
- Change (e.g., moving house, jobs, start or end of a relationship)
- Conflict or bullying (e.g., in a relationship, with work colleagues, at school)
- Expectations to perform (e.g., exams, work)
- Health issues or disability of self or family
- Death of loved ones
- New responsibilities
- Time pressure (insufficient time to get a particular task done)
- Too many tasks and responsibilities
Stress Management Techniques
- Time management
- Setting realistic goals
- Relaxation strategies
- Helpful thinking and coping self-talk
1. Time management
One of the main causes of stress is being overwhelmed by daily tasks. Deadlines, pressures, our own expectations and fears of failure to do things within a short space of time can make us feel stressed. When we fail to accomplish our tasks we are often left feeling hopeless, frustrated, or inadequate. Learning to manage your time effectively can help decrease the stress associated with daily living. One strategy to accomplish this can be to develop a ‘to do’ list, prioritise items on the list, and then ‘tick off’ tasks as they are accomplished.
2. Goal setting
Planning your short- and long-term goals is an important component of stress management. It is important that any such goals are clearly defined (not vague), as well as being realistic and achievable. It is also important to plan out how you will achieve each goal, to monitor your progress toward goals and then reward yourself for achieving them.
3. Relaxation strategies
There are specific techniques you can learn to help you to relax such as diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and attentional relaxation. These techniques are easy to learn and help to reduce physical tension and stress in your body.
This involves slowing your breathing rate down, and using your diaphragm (the muscle at the base of your lungs) to take slow, regular breaths. This is referred to as a ‘portable’ strategy because you can use it to manage stress anywhere and any time.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
PMR involves systematically tensing and releasing different muscle groups in the body and focusing on the difference between feeling relaxed and feeling tense.
This involves focusing as much of your attention as possible to something that you are imagining in your mind. For example, counting backwards from 100 by 3’s, or picturing a scene using all of your five senses.
As well as specific techniques, you can relax and reduce stress by doing anything that you enjoy, such as listening to music, going for a walk, playing with a pet, going to the gym, yoga, etc.
4. Helpful thinking and Coping Self-Talk
This type of self-talk is not about putting on a pair of ‘rose-coloured glasses’ and pretending that things are fine when they are not. Instead it involves acknowledging the difficulties that you may be experiencing and thinking about the situation in the most realistic way possible.
Examples of coping statements include:
- “It feels awful and unbearable but I can deal with it”
- “What I am feeling is normal anxiety and it will pass with time”
- “I’m going OK. I’ll just keep going slowly and do the things I can.”
If you would like to find out more about our treatment for Stress, or to book an appointment with one of our clinical psychologists who provides treatment for this condition, please email or call the clinic on 0405 430 530.