Coping and Changing My Stress Response
So here it is spring is on the way, time to check in to see how you are managing stress.
Have you thought about the four factors to assess to see how you are responding to the stress within your life? Perhaps we should review these four stress responses!
1) Are my thoughts consuming my focus? Am I constantly thinking about something and I can’t seem to stop?
2) Is my behaviour changing? Am I starting to avoid certain situations?
3) Are my emotional reactions changing? For example: am I becoming oversensitive, feeling insecure, doubting or overanalysing my decisions?
4) What is my body doing? Have I noticed any physical symptoms such as: feeling faint, hot and/or sweaty, heart rate increasing, breathing becoming shallower, muscle tension increasing, is my blood pressure rising when I am stressed? Am I getting sick more often that I used to?
Well how did you do? Need some coping skills? Let’s look at some ways to help stress from controlling your life.
1) Perception means how you view a situation. For example: if you feel like you have no control to change a situation, and/or feel helpless to change it, you will likely feel pretty stressed. Often there are ways to make changes in your life, but if you feel overwhelmed and that it is going to be too difficult. It is then easy to give up and view life as though you can’t change it. When overwhelmed, you may often feel like you have no ability to control or change a situation. At that point it is essential to take a step back, break down the situation into small components, and find what small steps you can make to start the change process. This will help you to feel more in control and less overwhelmed. Once you start breaking down what needs changing into small steps it is quite likely you will not feel as overwhelmed as you were. By breaking down your challenges into small steps you will find solutions for each step, which will help you to understand that you are not helpless to change.
However be aware, that some of the changes that you may need to make may be uncomfortable and so becoming comfortable, with being uncomfortable, is an important step forward as not all decisions are pleasant or comfortable.
2) Another problem is you may find that you think in terms of: must do, should of, and could have, in other words you have set standards for yourselves that are not reasonable or obtainable. Thus, you may be defeating yourself by setting impossible standards that will add to your stress. Basically, if you set standards or self-defeating beliefs for yourself that are unrealistic or unreasonable, your stress will escalate which may cause you to lose faith in your ability to cope with life. For example, it is not uncommon to want approval and acceptance from others. While having others approval and acceptance is great it is not a requirement to be happy. The issue here is that you become unconformable when people don’t approve of you and then you may become stressed or lose confidence in yourself. If you step back and think about it, it would be great if everyone approved and liked you, but it is not necessary for everyone to approve or like you. The reality is you have to learn that not being approved or liked may cause you to feel rejected or to feel uncomfortable, but that it is okay, so work on being comfortable with uncomfortable emotions!
3) Worrying about what may happen in the future is often a significant stressor in one’s life, but really when you look at it a person can impact what you are doing in the moment and it may impact the future, but worrying about what might happen in the future sets up a negative stress cycle. If you spend time stressing about what may or may not happen, your stress level will escalate, so when your mind wants to start forecasting the future work hard to focus on today which will in fact have a more positive impact on the future!
4) Avoidance and Unhealthy Negative Emotions – it is not uncommon to avoid situations that may be uncomfortable but learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable is a worthy goal. Often when avoiding situations because you may be afraid of experiencing rejection and/or negative consequences, what happens is you may find that you begin to judge yourself which may lead to you experiencing unhealthy negative emotional responses and feelings. There are unhealthy negative emotions and healthy negative emotions. For example: anxiety, shame, embarrassment, rage, jealousy, guilt, and low frustration are unhealthy negative emotions that will increase your stress and decrease your self-esteem. Healthy negative emotions include feeling: disappointed, being concerned, feeling sad, or regret of being frustrated. Most individuals want to experience positive feeling and situations but the reality is there are times when you are going to feel negative emotions; the challenge is to identify when emotions are unhealthy and work towards changing these negative emotions. For example: let’s say that you have to do a presentation at work and you put maximum effort into it, and once you have presented it you feel that you should have done better, so what happens? You beat yourself up emotionally. You may feel embarrassed, or very anxious about whether everyone liked it, and then you worry and stress even more. So did that help you? No of course not. What is important to understand is that you must remind yourself that you did your best, if others did not like it or you didn’t get the response you wanted it is okay to be frustrated or disappointed. These emotions will not escalate your stress or decrease your self-esteem they are a healthy response to a situation.
So as you can see you can really add to your stress levels if you let your emotional appraisal of yourself and situations get out of hand. So what are the key points to de-stressing yourself? Remember it is your perceptions, or your self-prescribed standards of ought’s and should’ve, worrying about the future or avoidance of situations that you may view as negative or uncomfortable, and letting yourself engage in unhealthy negative emotions. Think about these statements and don’t stress or judge yourself too harshly, because if you set impossible behavioural standards for yourself you will never be happy and you will lead a stressful unhappy life. So be kind to yourself and enjoy life, be aware and look inward if you are feeling overwhelmed. It is very likely that once you review your feelings and make some small changes your stress levels will become manageable!
Donna Piercy Registered Psychologist
Donna works from the following OWC locations – Macleod and Marlborough