Stress is a demanding teacher. Like the best mentor it can foster greatness. But like an unyielding instructor it can overwhelm and leave us depleted. If you’ve struggled with the negative impacts of stress there are simple ways you can take control.
If you’re like most of us, you ask a lot of yourself. You juggle the demands of work and home; the pressure to be accomplished and also be present for your loved ones. You may be going through a difficult life transition like divorce, or caring for your parents. Or you may just have a brain that tends to worry.
Good Stress vs Bad Stress
Some stress can be helpful; it motivates us and drives us to be our best. That’s what we psychologists call “eustress.” It’s what gets us up in the morning, or on time for that meeting, and helps us perform at our best. But there’s a tipping point.
When stress builds, instead of feeling challenged we feel tense, unfulfilled, and sometimes incapacitated. Rather than pushing us to be our best, this level of stress, or “distress” makes us feel our worst. Our performance suffers and so do we.
Stress Impacts Body and Mind
Physically we may be tense, have headaches, insomnia, digestive upset, or impaired immune response. Mentally we may be forgetful, or unable to focus. Emotionally we may feel low, anxious, or irritable, and take less pleasure in things we previously enjoyed. To cope with this kind of stress we may engage in behaviours like overeating, using alcohol or other substances, withdrawing socially, or acting impulsively.
So what can you do?
Accept that you can’t be stress-free
The expectation you can eliminate stress will keep you in a frustrating fight that you just can’t win. Stress is part of life. Your job is to stop it from taking over.
Recognize when you’re stressed
Tune in to how you and your body feel. It may be so normal for you to feel pressure that you no longer notice, but if you’re irritable, drained, or having trouble keeping up, you’re likely stressed.
Stop and breathe
Whatever the task at hand was, your new priority is to manage your stress. Ask yourself - what do I need right now? Maybe you need to delegate, indulge in a distraction like taking a walk or chatting with a friend, or maybe you need to ask for help.
Praise yourself for having paid attention and taken action
This self-reinforcement can help you to make managing stress a habit.
Talk to a professional
If you’re still feeling stressed or overwhelmed you may want to consult with a psychologist. We can help you to identify the symptoms of stress, its triggers, and coach you in effectively using scientifically-proven techniques to manage your stress and get back in the game.
Dr. Joanne West is a Psychologist with the Adelaide Health Clinic. To book an appointment please call 416-367-5200 or email firstname.lastname@example.org