I feel like every square inch of life has the potential to feel stressful at the moment; pressures to be a good parent (whatever that looks like) being successful at work - getting that promotion, keeping on top of life admin and then there's money worries more recently with the cost of living skyrocketing, it just feels like stress is coming at us from all angles and yet despite the recognition Stress is getting more recently, particularly in the workplace we still don't tend to recognise when its there or indeed do much about it.
The Impact of Stress
The impact of stress doesn’t just affect us mentally, it can have wide implications for other areas of our wellbeing too; our physical health can take a hit as our immune
systems crash leaving us wide open to ailments and illnesses and our social health can be affected as we pull back from our friends, family and activities we once enjoyed. So, it’s important we recognise stress early on and make any necessary changes to avoid burnout and illness.
Stress and our reaction to it is normal and an important function. We react to a low level of stress in a helpful way – it gives us that little kick in the bum to get going and motivate us each day for example if we didn’t feel a little bit stressed at the thought of arriving to work late we’d probably be late a lot of the time and then ultimately lose our jobs!
However too much stress that is prolonged is very bad for us; it clouds our grip on life, reduces productivity and can become quite toxic leading anxiety disorders, physical health problems and burnout. We’re not always very good at noticing when we’re stressed, we soldier on and justify how we feel by comparing ourselves to others particularly in the workplace or as a parent “why should I be stressed when others are out there doing the same thing and they seem to be coping fine”
"Recognise when you are starting to feel stressed and do something about it early on. Experiment with ways that help and get into some simple routines that work for you - it can have huge implications down the line".
Two Easy ways to Recognise and Balance Stress:
1. Use The Stress Container
One of the concepts I teach on my Mental Health Awareness Courses is the “Stress Container”
The stress container is a great model in working out what’s causing you to feel stressed and how well you’re currently handling it.
In this analogy we represent the stress containers - the size of which depends on various circumstances that might make us more vulnerable to stress, for example having experienced stressful/traumatic events in the past, positive or negative upbringing/relationships with our parents, current living conditions, feeling isolated, having a disability, socio-economic status etc.
Stress comes into our lives which is unavoidable and as it seeps in, the stress containers begin to fill. What we don’t want is for the container to become full to overflowing – if that happens, we can experience something known as “emotional snapping” that notion of “The last straw” which sends everything up in the air coating us and everyone around us stress. This can occur much more quickly for those of us who have smaller containers due to adverse events that may have happened in our past.
We try to keep the container flowing by adopting healthy ways of managing this stress such as spending time with friends, reading, sporting activities, getting out in nature etc
We may also have some strategies which may be helpful in the short term but long term they may clog up the container, for example drinking, smoking, eating unhealthily, doom scrolling social media, erratic sleep routines etc. So as much as we need to be developing helpful coping strategies we also need to be aware of those that feel good at the time and may even provide short term relief from stress but if used over a prolonged period of time can serve to maintain stress. I’m not saying we should do away with them – we all like a night in front of Netflix with a cheeky glass of wine and a Dairy Milk bar the size of a small child from time to time but we just need to be mindful of falling into the trap of doing some of these things more often than is healthy.
Have a go at completing your own stress container and see what comes up for you. Quite often we find that what feels like a million things swimming round in our heads maintaining that stressed out feeling actually doesn’t look quite as daunting when its out of your head and on paper. Have a look at each stressor in your container and ask yourself the following:
Can I park any of these up for a while
What do I need to prioritise? (Number them)
Can I delegate any of these tasks
Then list your coping strategies and notice:
Which list is longer?
Where could you make some conscious changes so that you have a better balance of helpful and unhelpful ways of coping?
What next steps do you need to take to ensure these changes are achievable?
There has been an increase in the number of people who have taken to journaling in recent years to help with their mental health and wellbeing. Many have said that writing about their mental health experiences in a creative way has allowed them to better understand themselves and look more pragmatically at what might be feeding and maintaining their stress.
When we are stressed the areas of our brain responsible for higher functioning, more skilled levels of ability temporarily shut down, leaving us in a more “fight-flight” mode. As a result, we may struggle with skills such as thinking rationally, making decisions, problem solving etc when we are in the depths of feeling stressed. Journaling provides us with a space where we can write down everything we’re experiencing at the time, then when we are feeling a little calmer and our rational brains are back online we can look back over what we wrote and approach it more clearly. We tend to catastrophise when stressed so in a calmer state we can ask ourselves; were the thoughts and feelings I was having true or was it being steered by my fight flight mode (which is far less rational). We can also then make informed decisions about how we manage the stressful situation should it arise in the future.
Many people actually feel more comfortable writing about their troubling experiences than talking about them and the cathartic feeling it provides can be likened to the act of writing our memoir. Recalling events from the past perhaps some that you’d rather not share with others, processing troubling experiences and connecting with family history have been proven to have profound effects on our well-being so give it a try, you can buy a shiny pretty journal from Paperchase if that feels good or you can simply write in a word document on a computer or even your notes section on your phone.
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