Submitted by Susan J. Smith, B.Sc.
Both sexes are overly stressed by life. Yes, a bit of short term stress is quite stimulating. Prolonged or frequent stress becomes debilitating. I regularly find myself saying “superwoman does not exist” to female clients who wonder why they can’t cope when they are working in a demanding full time job, trying to be a ‘good’ mother and wife and cook and housekeeper, etc. Male stress is significant in the western world too but men don’t seem to be trying to do it all! And be perfect at it all as well! Nor culturally, in my opinion, are they under the same pressure to do it all.
Here’s what I’ve learned about stress – you get stressed when you perceive you cannot easily meet the demands placed upon you. That is why one person gets stressed when someone else does not – even in the same circumstance.
Stress can affect young or old, working or not – it may be that you are in a difficult situation at home, school, or in the workplace. If the difficulty is that you feel over-extended then do say that you feel it is all too much. You might feel out of control by admitting this but if you try to go on doing it all you can collapse under the overload and how does that improve anyone’s quality of life? Work at letting go of unrealistic expectations regarding commitments, time pressures.
Practice saying “no” more often – people will actually respect you more and if they don’t and they try to bully you back into old behavior you need to get out or seek help. If you are being bullied at home, school or work do tell someone and ask them to help you find ways of changing the situation.
When you don’t feel you can cope you can get physical, emotional and behavioral responses which are important to recognize so that you start taking action to change the situation. In my experience stress gets more debilitating the longer it goes on.
My simple understanding is that what happens is your body starts to prepare to flee, fight or freeze up (like a rabbit caught in car headlights). Once you perceive a situation is overly demanding your nerve impulses stimulate you to produce chemicals (adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol). These then circulate in your blood and organs and the cells in your body and get it ready to act. My observation is that this isn’t too bad if you are in need of this stimulation and can do something – run, hit out, etc. When you can’t act those chemicals don’t disperse/get used up and they hang around in your body. The analogy that clients have understood most easily is that you feel like a coiled spring. The other example I use is that stress is like having the petrol pedal in a car stuck in the open position so that petrol (the stress chemicals) is coming through without the car moving – the engine is revving and has nowhere to go – prolonged revving will wear the car parts (human body) out! Understanding stress is a life skill needed by everyone.
Chronically stressful situations can eventually, in my opinion, be life threatening as they appear to weaken the immune system which can lead to ill health and deterioration. Take stress seriously, please. Here are some of the signs of stress-related burnout that were traditionally associated with the workplace and can actually be associated with school and homemaking too:-fatigue, feeling overwhelmed, forgetfulness, passivity and withdrawal, that “I can’t be bothered” feeling. Some of the other signs that you are stressed are if you notice you are having more arguments than usual, struggling to make decisions/concentrate, feeling impatient or are procrastinating. Are you eating, drinking or smoking cigarettes more or less than usual? Please pay attention if someone is saying that this is what they perceive as it is sometimes difficult for you to recognize the stress when you are the one living with it!
If you are trying to be perfect you may fear criticism or have a fear of failure and it drives you harder than necessary and creates more stress. Do you underestimate the time required to do a task? Do you tend to dominate conversations or see other people as adversaries without any real evidence that they are? Are you rigid about punctuality? All signals that you need to examine your stress levels!
Times to be extra gentle with yourself are when change occurs:
• Job change
• Loss of a friendship/relationship
• Ill health in yourself or loved one
• When being bullied (as an adult or child)
• Financial loss or gain
You can seek medicine from the doctor like beta-blockers for anxiety. If employed, discuss with the doctor if it is appropriate for you to take some time off work to rest and reflect.
If you can’t get rid of the stress at least manage it. Lavender oil, aromatherapy massage, reflexology, physical exercise like walking in the woods (and do try tree hugging when no one is looking!), gardening or any other gentle activity can all help. I once had a client
who thought he was helping himself by playing rugby which is a tough, physical contact sport. What it was actually doing was revving his stress up more so do be gentle with your mind and body.
Dr. Chandra Patel’s book is my favorite because not only does it give you the ability to understand stress, it gives you solutions! I believe everyone needs to read her ‘Complete Guide to Stress Management’ or find a stress management manual that you can enjoy. We would change the world if we all managed our stress more effectively! I would make this learning part of school curriculum worldwide if I had my way!
If as a child you learned to face stress triggers in a direct way you will see them as a challenge to overcome and use that to strengthen your ability to cope. If you were not taught that your coping skills will be letting you down so do read ‘Helping Children Cope with Stress’ by Avis Brenner. It will help you even now to learn about coping differently.
Other coping skills include:
Looking at the reality of a situation and not ‘burying your head in the sand’ – do not avoid, deny or try to escape into fantasy – the situation will not get resolved that way!
Write down your positive and negative feelings and don’t try to suppress those negative feelings. Look at what you have written down and find a way to break the situation into smaller segments that will be easier to manage. Deal with them one bit at a time so that you do not feel so overwhelmed – getting yourself frozen into inactivity.
Ask someone to help you look at the situation that is causing the distress. If you believe there is no one within your family or friends who can be constructive seek counseling so that you have a safe space to discuss this. Learn to pace yourself and not get tired – everything feels worse when you are exhausted.
Try increasing your relaxation time – this is not selfish – everyone needs some time for themselves in order to be able to cope in the world.
Try broadening your interests or activities so that your mind has something else to think about for a short period – this is not for as long as the avoidance behaviors mentioned earlier!
Know that after a bit of a break you are more likely generate a creative solution.
Try cultivating new habits:
Change the language you use – eliminate words such as ‘should’, ‘must’, ‘ought’. Insert into your self-talk and conversations phrases like “I could choose to…”, “I can say no”,
Increase self-nurturing like long warm baths or what ever makes you feel good.
Take the time to eat breakfast, lunch and an evening meal without rushing!
Go to a dietician or nutritional therapist to improve food/nutrient uptake.
Cutting out street drugs.
Cut out alcohol (it only creates the illusion of relaxation).
Cut out cigarettes.
Cut out any other addictions like shopping, gambling, overworking.
Most importantly start treating yourself as you would an honored guest!
One way to reduce stress is to gain the knowledge/skills that will allow you to deal with a situation differently. Self-awareness and personal insight helps you cope by understanding what triggers your own stress and that gives you the chance to make changes. Create a balanced life style – work, rest and play. See my chapter ‘Worry Doesn’t Fix Anything’ in my book Emotional Health for Emotional Wealth for self hypnosis. Positive self-talk/affirmations are included in my chapter ‘Create Your Future Now!’ (in Emotional Health for Emotional Wealth).
Do you get flashbacks to an event that was unpleasant? Are nightmares a recurrent problem? Go to your GP for a diagnosis and seek help immediately if Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is present. Child abuse, adult rape, domestic violence, and accidents like car crashes can all create PTSD so check it out. Post Combat Stress (as in returning from a war zone) affects the lives of women too and professional help needs to be sought, whether you are the military person or living with one. Don’t delay.