Stress is a normal response to any situation that requires adjustment to internal or external triggers on a physical, emotional, mental or spiritual level. Everyone experiences stress differently and at varying levels of intensity during their lifetime, for example, physical reactions from illness/exertion; emotional stress from trauma; psychological stress from fear and spiritual stress from facing our mortality.
Stress is good because it alerts us to danger and motivates us to change by taking appropriate action in a timely manner to restore balance and harmony again. The human body is equipped to manage and respond to stress and many of its processes are automated on a physical level without the cause of the stress ever reaching our conscious mind. Have you ever noticed a bruise without recalling the original physical impact that caused it? But what about excessive stress that just doesn’t go away?
Excessive acute or chronic stress can be overwhelming, and we are left in no doubt about the seriousness of a situation, as a slew of symptoms demand our attention. Nagging headaches, high blood pressure, sexual dysfunction, upset stomach, irritability, fatigue, insomnia, fear compromise our health and persistent negative thoughts such as “I’m a failure, I’m not worth much, I’m stupid or I’m not good enough” become our unwanted companions.
Surprisingly, stress can result from positive successes too. Some time ago, a man who had been appointed Chief Executive of a large corporation admitted that the ‘Peter Principle’ was severely impact his life; a situation where his previous successes had resulted in him being promoted to a level of incompetence where he was no longer sufficiently skilled to carry out the role. It caused him great distress. Perhaps new parents who feel overwhelmed with responsibility and lacking in knowledge about how to look after their baby, can understand his dilemma.
How to Reduce Stress
1. Become aware of what is going on. For that reason, I ask clients to start journalling (not to be confused with writing a diary). Journalling requires reflective writing by evaluating what is going on, asking yourself what your reactions to situations mean, what you can do to change and taking action. Reviewing your journal will give you insights into your way of thinking because behaviour follows thought. Anyone who has used CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) will appreciate how thoughts set us up for the day – negatively or positively. Our innate belief system will also influence how we interpret events or look for an expected outcome that is driven by our thoughts.
2. Change something. When we review our journal, patterns of behaviour begin to pop up and present us with the question ‘What do I want to do about it?’ If we do nothing, then in the words attributed to Albert Einstein “Insanity (is) doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
3. Look after your physical body first and then your emotional body. Eat healthily, exercise, drink water regularly and learn to manage your time more effectively. Negative thoughts can be the result of doing too much and not resting sufficiently. When I completed my BSc. (Hons) Psychology degree (deliberately written that way – puffed up with pride) my spiritual director brought me down to earth swiftly after listening to the ‘industry’ definition of depression by cutting to the chase ‘The definition of depression’, he said, ‘is – NO FUN!’. What simplicity and truth. If you don’t have enough fun in your life – create some and watch what happens!
4. Look for help. If you need help, seek it out with a reputable therapist without delay.