A frequent problem mentioned by people who get in touch with Birmingham Counselling Services is a feeling of being overwhelmed by stress which they has taken control of their lives. Stress has got itself a bad name these days, when it is not necessarily such a bad thing. We all need a modicum of adrenaline in order to function efficiently and sometimes a certain amount of stress can make life a bit more interesting and stimulating. There will always be deadlines to meet and commitments to honour, and a gentle increase in our stress level will help us to deal with them. The significant word here is “gentle”, of course – a sudden dramatic flood of adrenaline can bring on a panic attack, or push us into the “fight, flight or freeze” response. These last reactions are very primitive responses to danger, and in some circumstances they can quite literally save our lives, but they are rarely appropriate for the problems we encounter day to day. Neither an aggressive approach to the issue nor running away from it nor total inactivity is likely to help us meet that deadline or commitment.
How helpful it would be if we could come up with a formula for stress – the amount of stress we could bear without feeling out of control. We could monitor ourselves and measure where we were on some hypothetical scale of adrenaline production, and predict how much more we could take. In reality of course no general formula would be helpful – no two people react in the same way to any set of circumstances. We all have our unique physical make-up and our individual emotional and intellectual capacities and histories. One person’s problem might be another’s opportunity, something you see as an adventure might seem like a perilous situation to your partner, colleague, friend or neighbour.
Frequently people discover that they are able to bear and deal with much greater problems than they would have anticipated, so the first thing to remind yourself of is not to be scared of a challenge. You might surprise yourself by how you rise to it.
Next, take a few deep breaths, concentrating on breathing in and out steadily and regularly. Half a minute is all you need take – this regular breathing will calm you and steady you and enable you to keep hold of your thoughts.
Then take a good look at what seems to be the cause of your stress. Does it feel like an overwhelming burden? If you can, try to divide this stressor into smaller sections. It helps to write things down at this stage. When you have a list, consider how to deal with the items on it one at a time – much more manageable and much less frightening than the umbrella issue.
Another way to reduce the impact of a stress-making problem is to talk it through with someone you trust, perhaps a friend or a colleague, who might see things from a different, less threatening, angle and be able to offer practical suggestions for tackling whatever is disempowering you so effectively.
When you have dealt with the first part of the problem, with or without help, cross that off the list and use it to start a new list of Things Achieved. Congratulate yourself – you have taken control of what felt unmanageable a short time ago. Notice how your stress level has fallen. Not only are you dealing with the issue, you are starting to manage your stress at the same time. Well done!
Part 2 of this article will look at managing the stress which is more embedded in our lives, not necessarily provoked by a specific episode or demand. Meanwhile, if anything in this article has rung bells for you, if you feel you would like to talk things through with a qualified and experienced professional counsellor, you can always get in touch with Birmingham Counselling Services, either via our website: www.BirmminghamCounsellingServices.co.uk or by calling 0121 314 9903.