Recognising When You’re Stressed (and what to do about it)
A demanding job, a never-ending pile of laundry, an overdue bill, kids that just will not do as they’re told – no matter how many times you’ve asked them. We all have things going on in our lives that stress us out. Sometimes the stress is good for us, it motivates us and pushes us to keep moving forward. Too much of it though and the pendulum swings the other way. Life starts to get on top of us and we begin to feel like we can’t cope.
The good news is that for most situations, it’s possible to stop stress in its tracks before it’s too late. We just need to be able to recognise the warning signs and do something about them BEFORE they get the better of us. Sounds pretty simple, but how do we do it? How do we recognise when we’re stressed and deal with being stressed? And is there anything we can do to reduce our stress levels?
Recognising when we’re stressed…
Stress is our body’s way of dealing with the demands of daily life. Our ability to cope with stress depends on three things:
- How resilient we are (how well we bounce back).
- Whether we’re normally a naturally positive or negative person (glass half full or glass half empty?).
- What else is going on in our lives at that moment in time.
Whatever our ability to cope with stress might be, we all have an upper limit for how much we can cope with in one go. Too much stress and we start to suffer with the physical side effects – headaches that won’t go away, difficulty in sleeping, irritability and finding it hard to concentrate are some of the most common.
These side effects are the warning signs we’re struggling to cope. They’re our body’s way of telling us it’s in trouble and that we need help. If we’re to deal with stress before it gets the better of us, we need to listen to our bodies and work out why we’re feeling this way. We need to figure out exactly what it is that’s stressing us out. Unless we understand where the stress is coming from, i.e. what the root cause of it is, improving the situation is going to be difficult.
Knowing our stress triggers…
What triggers stress varies from person to person. For some it’s the mountain of paperwork and emails waiting for them at work each day. For others it’s trying to make ends meet on one salary or caring for a sick or elderly relative. Establish what your stress triggers are by asking yourself which areas of your life cause you the most stress. What irritates, frustrates or niggles you in those areas? Those are your stress triggers.
Sometimes the root cause of our stress isn’t always obvious and we have to dig deep. If that’s the case for you, it may be that your stress isn’t caused by just one thing. Life can be pretty complicated at times so it’s quite possible your stress is being caused by the culmination of lots of minor irritations and frustrations rather than one big thing. On their own, these frustrations are probably manageable, but when combined with everything else, they become a much bigger problem.
Doing something about it…
Recognising the warning signs and knowing what your stress triggers are is just the start. If you want to make life less stressful you have to take action. And that means accepting you have a problem that needs addressing and doing something about it. It isn’t always easy but being in denial or sitting there moaning about your situation without making any attempt to do something about it won’t get you anywhere.
The first and most obvious way to deal with the problem is to eliminate the stressor itself. But that isn’t always possible. Sometimes events are out of our control and eliminating the stressor simply isn’t an option. If that’s the case, you have to accept the situation can’t be changed and find a way to cope with it. This means doing things to reduce the effect the situation has on you or finding ways to manage the stress you are experiencing. You could try:
- Keeping a stress journal: Write down what’s going on and how you feel and look for patterns – then ask yourself how you can eliminate or reduce the effect they have on you.
- Nourishing your body: Eat plenty of fresh fruit and veg, stay hydrated, drink less alcohol and get the blood flowing by getting plenty of exercise.
- Getting plenty of sleep: When we don’t get enough sleep we become stressed and when we’re stressed we can’t sleep – it’s a vicious circle! Break the cycle by adopting a relaxing wind-down routine before bed.
- Making time for your own wellbeing: Sometimes we feel stressed simply because we’re not giving ourselves the opportunity to unwind and relax. Make time for yourself, give yourself time to recharge and don’t feel guilty about it.
- Being kinder to yourself: Often, it’s the expectations we place upon ourselves rather than the expectations of others that stress us out. So be kind to yourself and try not to set yourself expectations that are unrealistic. You can’t do it all, and that’s ok.
- Asking for help: Whilst it’s not always easy to admit it, sometimes we need help. If your workload is too much, tell your boss. If you’re struggling to get everything done around the house, maybe ask your spouse for support. Ask a fellow mum friend to watch your kids and then return the favour.
- Having an outlet: We all need an outlet of some kind, something that we enjoy, something that relaxes us. Give yourself something to look forward to each week by taking up a new hobby.
- Having a good support network around you: Surround yourself with people you can talk to and rely on. Spend time with those who are positive and bring you up rather than those who pull you down.
Recognising when you’re stressed (and what to do about it)…
Life can be stressful, and it has the potential to stress us out – but only if we let it. Lou Holtz said, “Life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it” and he’s right. Whilst we can’t always control what happens to us, we can control how we react to it. And how we react to it determines how stressed we get. So next time you’re faced with a situation that has the potential to stress you out, stop to think about how you’ll react. Will you let it get the better of you, or will you do something about it?