Written by Brisbane Counselling Centre Psychologist, Natascha Madden.
Stress is a normal part of life. Everyone feels stress from time to time and some stress is motivating and helpful to get tasks done. Stress is a physiological reaction to something that our brain assesses to be a threat or a danger. For example, a deadline for an assignment rapidly approaching and not having started the work may create a stress response. Another example of a stressor may be having many tasks to accomplish without enough time in which to complete them. Conflict in a relationship may cause stress for another person. Stress is different for every person.
Stress comes and goes. Anxiety is a reaction to stress that has the potential to continue even though the stressor has passed. For people who know what their stressors are or their triggers to stress are, they can often manage the stress more effectively.
What are signs of stress?
- Headaches and/or migraines
- Sleep disturbances
- Chest pain
- Body aches & pains, including back & neck pain
- Increase or decrease in appetite
- Feeling run down & becoming unwell more often, possibly taking longer to recover
Once you have identified that you are stressed, the next step to managing it more effectively is to understand what your triggers are. What is it that makes you feel stressed?
Examples of stressors are:
- Life changes such as marriage, having a baby, moving, getting a new job
- Relationships & friendships
- Pressure at work, including deadlines
- Study commitments
- Day to day activities
- Juggling too many commitments
Once you have identified the stressors see if there are any you can reduce, control or manage differently. For example, if you are constantly running late and this puts stress on you, plan your schedule with extra time allowing for unexpected changes, organise yourself the night before for the next day and try going to bed earlier.
Other proven effective stress management techniques are:
- Exercise – participating in any form of exercise is better than no exercise at all. It is ideal if you can do half an hour of exercise during which you increase your heart rate. This allows you to unwind and decreases the damage from the stress hormone that is released in your brain.
- Make time to eat well and get a good night’s sleep. Think about your habits around your diet and your sleep pattern. What are some possible unhealthy choices you may be making in these areas that could be improved?
- Make time for yourself to spend with family, friends or participating in activities you enjoy. Often people talk about not having time to do this. It is important to make time, carve it out and you are more likely to be productive, able to focus more and generally feel better within yourself.
- Meditation & breathing exercises are important skills to better managing stress. They both trigger the relaxation response in your brain. They are free and can both be done in the comfort of your own home once you know how to do them effectively.
If you are feeling stressed and finding it difficult to navigate a healthy way forward, discussing this with a psychologist is likely to be helpful.