Stress is our reaction to an excess of emotional or physical pressure. When we believe we are unable to cope with the pressure, we can experience stress. The reaction to stress is an individual one; people respond in different ways so what feels stressful for one person may not be stressful for someone else.
In addition to the emotional and psychological impact of stress, our body reacts biologically causing a surge of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline as a response to the ‘threat’ of this pressure. We can experience numerous physical symptoms such as tension, headaches, stomach upsets and nausea.
The physical and emotional effects of stress may also impact on our behaviour, and we may see changes in our ability to tolerate minor inconveniences, have interrupted sleep patterns, and sometimes increases in tearfulness or aggression.
Stress is not what happens to us. It’s our response to what happens and response is something we can choose.
- Maureen Killoran
It’s important then, to consider your own stress levels and take steps to manage your stress. If you are experiencing physical symptoms of stress, you may want to discuss this with your GP.
Symptoms of Stress
Stress affects different people in different ways. There are many symptoms that can be associated with stress and you are unlikely to experience them all. Some of the symptoms may include frequent headaches, jaw clenching, grinding teeth, tremors, trembling of hands, neck ache, back pain, muscle spasms, light headedness, faintness, dizziness, sweating, cold or sweaty hands/feet, dry mouth, problems swallowing, frequent colds, infections, mouth ulcers, cold sores, heartburn, stomach pain, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, panic attacks, chest pain, palpitations, rapid pulse, frequent urination, worry, guilt, nervousness, increased anger, frustration, hostility, depression, frequent mood swings, increased or decreased appetite, insomnia, nightmares, disturbing dreams, difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts, forgetfulness, difficulty in making decisions, feeling overwhelmed, frequent crying or tearfulness, social withdrawal, tiredness, weakness, fatigue, increased smoking, alcohol or drug use.
Given the vast array of symptoms, it’s important to pay attention to what our bodies are telling us about stress: learn your most common stress symptoms, listen to what your body is telling you, and look at how you can reduce your stress levels.
Despite the feelings of anxiety that are associated, worry is a behaviour we perform in our minds – a cognitive behaviour – and is often an attempt to solve a problem. Sometimes the problem is something practical, such as financial, relationship or work issues. Other times, our worries are about issues over which we have very little control; they consist of potential future events that may – or may not – happen. They often begin with the words “what if…” and in this way, they can be considered hypothetical worries. Our worrying is therefore an attempt to solve a problem whose outcome is uncertain or unsolvable.
Being able to determine if a worry is practical or hypothetical can be really useful in being able to know what to do with that worry. On the course, we use the Worry Tree to help understand what to do if a worry is practical or hypothetical.
If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever
- Dalai Lama XIV
Practical problems can be worrying and stressful, particularly if we feel unable to manage them. If there appear to be many problems all at once, this can feel overwhelming and add to our stress and worry. Problem solving techniques, such as those covered in the session, can be useful in managing the number of practical worries that you have and also give you logical steps to help work towards solving that particular problem (and therefore eliminating the ‘need’ to worry).
You can use the worksheets that are covered in the course that will guide you through a specific problem solving technique: Problem Solving Guide.
For a more detailed look at problem solving, this workbook can be helpful.
If excessive worry is a difficulty, there are techniques that can be used to help manage worry. Worry Postponement is one such technique that can help you to regain control over your worrying (rather than your worrying controlling you!) Worry Postponement is a way of ‘shelving’ your worries until a specific time of day, when you can then allow yourself to worry about the things you feel you need to. This helps to put worry in its place and stops it from taking over the majority of your time and energy. It’s a simple technique which is wonderfully outlined in this Worry Postponement worksheet from the Centre for Clinical Interventions (CCI).
This comprehensive workbook is a really useful too for working with your worries.
Relaxation has been shown to be an effective tool in overcoming stress. Relaxation is a skill, like any other, that can be improved by practice – the more we engage with relaxation, the better and longer lasting the benefits can be. Taking time out to relax regularly can be a useful way to manage stress. One way is to listen to the relaxation recording used on Session 2 of the course: Guided Visualisation Relaxation recording. Alternatively, there is a longer relaxation recording that can be used to further your practice and help improve your relaxation skills: 15 Minute Relaxation recording.
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