Sometime people who get in touch with Birmingham Counselling Services talk about living with an unacceptably high stress level all the time. In Part 1 of this article we looked at practical ways of managing stress provoked by specific events or tasks. In Part 2 we will consider the impact of continuing long-term stress in our lives and how we might start to tackle this.
It is now known that many illnesses are directly tied to the experience of too much stress. If you are aware that your health is constantly a bit less than good, if find yourself catching every passing bug, if you feel shaky much of the time, you need to start looking at possible causes of regularly feeling under the weather. This is not something that can be done in an evening. You need to take your time, to accept that there will be no quick fix, so as not to stress yourself further.
First of all, try keeping a short diary – a time-sheet and record of food and drink. There is no need to write your autobiography, simply note down what time you wake (do you need an alarm?) and how you feel, very briefly what happens during your day, what and when you eat and drink, and what time you go to bed and how you feel then. After three or four weeks read the whole document from as detached a place as you can. This is the life of someone you care about. Does anything strike you as significant or worrying? Are any patterns emerging? Consistent late nights? Too little sleep? Meals regularly skipped? Too much alcohol? All work and no play? No exercise? Does this life feel out of control? And are simple ways of improving this life already becoming obvious? If this was a friend’s life you wouldn’t hesitate to encourage them to develop a healthier way of living. So apply your good advice to yourself. Start adjusting, (don’t try to do everything at once), while keeping the same diary. After another four weeks compare the two documents and how you are feeling. Less tired? Fitter? Less stressed? You will already be coping better with whatever comes your way. Take care of yourself and some of the problems will shrink in size and significance.
Something else to look out for and make a note of is whether there are particular regular activities and/or times of day which make you feel less comfortable, less in control. Feeling out of control is a powerful creator of stress. If a regular pattern emerges, try the detached approach again. What is it about this activity or this time of day which is the true thorn in your flesh? Does it really have to be this way? What can you do to change it? There will be something. For example, if it is the heavy traffic as you drive to work, try changing the time you travel – 15 minutes can make all the difference to both your journey and how you feel for the rest of the day. If a particular person has the power to wind you up without even trying, see if you can arrange to have less contact with them, or to have someone else present when you do. You do not have to put yourself in avoidable stressful situations.
Try to think positively. Again, if travel is a great stressor, look at the possibility of using public transport and relaxing on the bus or the train. Experiment on one day a week and see what difference it makes. Take control. Doing things from choice reduces their power over you. If feeding a ravenous family is a growing problem, try sub-contracting – what would it be like if each (adult/teenage) member of the family had responsibility for feeding everyone for a day, on the budget you need to manage on? They might not actually do it, but having sat and thought about what you do they might be more appreciative of your efforts. That appreciation means a lot – it can give you energy.
Another thing to look out for – does repeated exposure to a small problem increase its size and power? It is not an issue that is 7 times bigger than it was a week ago, it is the same small problem which has repeated itself every day for a week. You can deal with it. You can be in control.
Other articles previously published have looked at the importance of keeping physically healthy. Never forget the importance of regular exercise (this doesn’t mean expensive gym membership). The Romans had a very important concept which translates as “a healthy mind in a healthy body”. Sometimes our bodies let us down, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look after them as well as we can. Walk, breathe, relax – these are all free and don’t need special equipment.
None of us will ever have a completely stress-free life – it would be very unhealthy for us. And none of us will be able to cut out all the stress imposed on us by others. What we can do is learn to recognize where the stress comes from and see if we can reduce it. We can take control of some things, if not everything, and stay calmer than we had thought possible. Try it for yourself.
If you would like help in looking at issues raised in this article, or with any other stress-related events in your life, you can talk things over with a qualified and experienced counsellor at Birmingham Counselling Services. Get in touch with us via our website: www.BirminghmCounsellingServices.co.uk or by calling us on 0121 314 9903.