It is not always easy to identify the real causes when you are severely stressed, although the symptoms may be all too obvious. Many of us resort to medication or herbal remedies to get rid of these symptoms without recognising what gave rise to them in the first place. This might well make life easier for a while, but the improvement is likely to be temporary and not last much longer than the course of medication. If you really want to reduce the stress in your life you will need to address the issues which gave rise to that stress.
Personal stress management involves taking responsibility for your own life, working (possibly with a qualified and experienced counsellor from Birmingham Counselling Services) to reach the root of the problem (the “trigger”) causing excessive stress, and then making changes in how you act and how you think, in order to protect yourself as far as you can from the continuing consequences of exposure to this trigger. You will never be able to eliminate all stress from your life, nor would it be healthy for you to try – from time to time we all need the adrenaline which feeling stressed can produce. However, too much stress and adrenaline can be overwhelming, so we need to aim for some balance in our lives.
The first step in managing your personal stress is to understand what stress really is and how it can affect your life. Stress can be caused by a strong reaction to some past event, a response to a current threat, a fear for the future. Whatever has triggered it, once present it can affect your emotional, mental and physical faculties in a negative way, including reducing the efficiency of your immune system. It can affect your sleep pattern, make it difficult to maintain relationships, hamper your efficiency at work, suppress or increase your appetite, make you feel as if your mind is out of your control – for something which can be so hard to pin down it can have great power over how you function.
This is not always easy, as a recent small problem, quite manageable on its own, might be blamed for an accumulation of issues which have combined to induce an excessive stress reaction. Try to work back through your life, to see beyond this surface issue. Don’t be afraid to ask for help in doing this, from someone you can talk to safely and who will not judge you nor be tempted to push their own ideas at you; someone like a counsellor. Remember that it is all too easy to carry over a severe reaction from one serious event onto another less significant happening, which doesn’t warrant such a dramatic response. Be prepared to find memories and links between events which you have previously lost track of.
Remember that something like the possibility of an important relationship breaking up or of losing your job is a serious threat, and feeling stressed as a result of this threat is normal. Don’t worry if you feel angry and/or upset – what could be more natural? Becoming aware of the true cause of your stress might well get it back to a manageable level.
First of all, don’t expect overnight results. Don’t beat yourself up because you can’t sort everything out at once. If a problem has built up over weeks or months or years it is unlikely to be shifted in a few hours, although recognising and acknowledging its existence will reduce its power.
Give yourself space and time to get away from the problem and relax – swim, meditate, walk, see a film, do something creative – introduce something new into your life.
Remember to breathe – real slow deep breaths.
Make a list of all the stress-related things which are waiting to be done, so that you feel hay are piling up and could overwhelm you. Prioritise them. Then find some small, simple task on the list and do that first, no matter how far down it comes. Cross this task off the list and feel good about your achievement. There is one thing fewer to do now. Then find another small thing, do it, and cross that off too. The list is now noticeably shorter. If Number 1 on the list is long, complex and difficult, spend some time breaking it down into smaller, simpler steps, (on paper, so you can tick them off), and don’t worry if you don’t get them all done in one session/on one day. You will have pulled some of the monster’s teeth. Allow yourself to feel pleased at your strength and your achievement. Sometimes stress is like a bully and has as much power as we give away to it and no more.
Work on improving your physical environment. Add a plant, a scented candle, a poster, a loved photograph, background music – whatever is appropriate in the context and helps you to feel good.
Recognise that memories cannot acquire new, current powers unless you allow them to. They might be very painful but they are reminders of the past – we can learn from them, but do not need to be dominated by them.
Again, it is fine to share all of this with a supportive friend or colleague or therapist or priest of your faith. You do not have to manage everything on your own, unless you choose to. Think about contacting Birmingham Counselling Services by calling 0121 314 9903 or via our website: www.BirminghamCounsellingServices.co.uk One of our counsellors might be just the person to work with and support you as you practise reducing your stress.