April is stress awareness month which raises awareness of the causes and cures for modern stress. The Stress Management Society say that they have faced the most challenging time as a result of the pandemic and people reaching for more support.
What is Stress?
The right amount of stress can be motivating and inspiring. It’s the feeling you get when you’re about to watch an exciting or scary movie, psyching yourself up for a competitive sport, or doing a great presentation in front of your new colleagues. This is what Psychologists call eustress: a moderate level of stress that doesn’t last too long. However, for most of us-being ‘stressed’ isn’t pleasant. It’s more likely that we’re talking about feeling overwhelmed and under pressure. And it’s becoming an almost normal state of being for most of us.
Stress can be caused either by major upheavals and life events such as divorce, unemployment, moving house and bereavement, or by a series of minor irritations such as feeling undervalued at work or arguing with a family member. Whatever is causing it, when we say things like “this is stressful” or “I’m stressed”, we might be talking about two things:
- Situations or events that put pressure on us – for example, times where we have lots to do and think about, or don’t have much control over what happens.
- Our reaction to being placed under pressure – the feelings we get when we have demands placed on us that we find difficult to cope with.
This highlights that we all react to stress differently. While a fast-paced culture in the workplace can be oppressive for some workers, others may find it energising. Also-if you’ve already moved around a lot in your life, moving to a new home might not actually feel that big of a deal. There’s a really important lesson here: when it comes to stress, the only experience that matters is yours. Nobody can tell you that something “isn’t really that stressful” or that you “shouldn’t stress about it.” If something feels stressful to you, it is stressful!
Over time, chronic stress can affect both our mental, and our physical health. Stress in and of itself is not a mental illness but can lead to them – so it’s important to learn our triggers, understand our own personal stress response and learn how to control it. People often have varying responses to stress from physical to emotional and mental signs. However, If you’re feeling edgy, powerless, or anxious a lot of the time, or if you get a lot of headaches or sleepless nights, you could be suffering from chronic stress.
Stress Bucket analogy
The stress bucket analogy was created to help people measure their stress tolerance.
This metaphorical ‘bucket’ fills up with all the stresses of the day and can be emptied by a good night’s sleep, or by engaging with things that make us feel happy and relaxed. If the bucket starts to fill or overflow, we can start to feel anxious and overwhelmed. We all have a stress bucket, but some people are better at emptying it – or have less going into it – than others. Our stress tolerance or the size of our bucket is a product of our genes, personality and experience. The size varies from person to person. Learning how to empty the stress bucket or increase the size or tolerance can be a useful way of managing our stress. However, we often find that the things that we do in our lives that make us feel good and help empty the bucket- the exercise class, the walk in nature, cooking a meal, or seeing friends can be the first things that we let go of when we are trying to manage a stressful or extremely busy time. Identifying what makes us feel better and making time for these things can be very protective against chronic stress. . Remember-many people feel burnt out, not because they are doing too much but because they are doing too little of what makes them feel most alive and happy. Make them a priority.
To deal with stress, you need to get clear on what’s coming from outside, and what is coming from within. External events are outside your control. For example, if your workplace is stressing you out, you need to take action to change it if you can. However, If you take on responsibility for other people’s actions, your stress will just get out of control.
Let’s think about what you can control to help alleviate stress.
- Get enough sleep – prioritise getting 8 hours. It’ll make you feel better able to cope with pressure and helps to regulate emotions. Check out our sleep blog to find out more tips on how to sleep better and the importance it plays for our wellbeing.
- Manage your time – optimally- we can be overwhelmed when tasks or projects seem too much….instead break time down into chunks and fill it with smaller manageable goals.
- Physical exercise – even a short stretching sequence can help. Try some yoga or even some stretches in your chair.· When we are stressed, our thoughts can become more negative and biassed towards threat-it’s our brain trying to protect us, but ultimately can make us feel worse. So…check your thinking patterns for biassed thinking traps and challenge these where needed. Reframe your thoughts. Ask yourself if you are doing black and white thinking? Will this actually matter in a week, a month or a year? What qualities do you have that will mean you will cope? What evidence is there that actually things will be okay?
- Remember to breathe – effective, calm breathing decreases the fight or flight response and regulates our system. Learn methods to help you calm down and focus with more clarity.
- Learn to meditate. This has been proven to help people manage stress and anxiety. Focusing on the present moment helps to calm the mind and stop rumination.
- Talk to someone – a family member, friend or trusted colleague. Let it out and get some fresh perspectives and emotional support.
- Remember to take breaks-what empties the stress bucket for you?
- Accept. We cannot always change the current situation-do not focus on the things you cannot change – focus your time and energy into helping yourself feel better. Our Happiness blog has short and brief activities we can do on a regular basis to help us improve our mood everyday, go check it out!
Experiencing stress actually builds your resilience. Your abilities are like muscles: the more you use them, the stronger they get. So it’s important to notice when you’ve used your strengths or overcome a difficulty. Notice the things that make you feel better. And remember- One day, a new task can be challenging—but the next day, it becomes easier and more familiar. Way to go on coping skills! On the VISTA App, we have a range of educational programmes and tools designed by experts to support our users to manage their stress levels. Go check out the VISTA App to find out more.