What Is Stress?
Stress is a response to the pressures that we can feel in our lives. We all feel stressed from time to time, but sometimes it can pile up and leave us feeling overwhelmed and out of control.
When people take on too much stress over a long period of time, it can lead to a sense of burn out physically, mentally and emotionally and change how we interact with the normal things we once were able to. Burn out can create a feeling of intense exhaustion and a huge lack of motivation. Imagine all the things in your life represented by the image of juggling too many balls, or spinning too many plates for too long and eventually, dropping them all because it’s just too much. And later as a result, feeling unable to even pick up one or two again. This is because the brain literally changes when overwhelmed with high levels of stress.
Some stress can be good for us, to keep us motivated and challenged in a healthy way, and is a normal part of life and a very normal response. Too much stress however, can leave us feeling burned out.
Signs to look out for:
- Anxiety – feeling very worried, overthinking but unable to act on tasks.
- Feeling overwhelmed or scared –perhaps being in a new unknown situation.
- Being avoidant – you might avoid your day to day life in an attempt to avoid/control the stress.
- Feeling low – low moods, self-critical.
- Brain fog – Exhaustion.
- Burn out – feeling that you cannot do things you once could because you are overwhelmed.
- Developing unhealthy coping mechanisms in an attempt to control or avoid the stress such as drinking or smoking.
Causes of stress:
- Taking on too much – not being able to say no to others or feeling a need to prove oneself.
- Changes in important relationships.
- Feeling isolated/trapped.
- Not feeling in control – uncertain situations.
- Significant changes – such as moving home, financial burdens, or an increase in responsibility.
- Masking – not being authentically yourself.
How to help your stress:
Taking control of a stressful situation can feel counterintuitive because in stressful situations, the brain is ‘offline’ and unable to think logically or communicate effectively. However, finding ways to take control one step at a time can eventually feel really empowering. This may seem overwhelming to begin with, as you are probably feeling overwhelmed already, but the idea is to take things slowly.
Here are some things to try if you are feeling stressed or burned out:
- Doing things that feel good – reading, sleeping, talking with friends, watching a movie, walking, taking a long bath, swimming, spending time with animals. We are all different, so whatever it is that makes you feel good, find a way to get that back into your life.
- Creating boundaries with others – learning to say ‘no’ or ‘not right now’ or ‘I have too much on at the moment’. This way, you are learning to cope with just the right amount of challenges that you can handle in a healthy way.
- Self – care – It is ok to slow down and take a break. Let your mind and your body recover. If it helps, express this to a trusted person/people and build a supportive network around you.
- Eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly – this can help your brain get back ‘on line’ and think more clearly. Just a change of scenery and getting some fresh air can help refocus your mind out of the stress pattern.
- Challenge your own negative thinking – by noticing these thoughts as the stressed part of you.
- Notice when you feel joyful and safe – making a mental note of your positive thoughts when you feel them can reinforce your good feelings. Every day try to do little things that bring you joy.
- Gratitude – remembering who and what you are grateful for, and expressing that. Even the smallest things can make a difference to your mood.
- Adopting a mindful attitude – being present in the moment, at least once a day, can really help your mind get comfortable with slowing down and appreciating what you have right now. It can also give you a feeling of being in control and at the same time, relaxed.
- Getting Organised – Once you have recovered a little, getting organised in your life is a great way to feel empowered and back in control of things. Take it one step at a time, and break big tasks in to small mini steps. If it starts to feel too much again, listen to your body and stop for regular breaks.
Other types of stress:
Sometimes stress can be more severe or traumatic and can cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is usually a result of trauma, or repeated trauma which can cause more complex PTSD.
Talking to a Therapist can help you manage your stress. A qualified Counsellor or a Therapist can help you identify patterns in your life that keep you stuck in a stressed space. They can also support you with a plan to get back on track.