It’s December and the festive season is upon us once again. Ahead of us lay hours of rushing through shops trying to mark off items from our seemingly endless shopping lists, barging through the crowds on our way. And then there are the party invites flooding into our inbox, several of these falling on the same night and all – without fail – impossible to decline less our friendships be strained forevermore. Add to this the torrent of cookery shows impressing upon us the urgent need to be a Michelin Star chef come Christmas day and no wonder the season fills us with an overwhelming sense of stress.
Recalling last Christmas it was clear I was stressed, I had just finished planning my parents honeymoon and was completely burnt out. At the time I was aware I wasn’t myself but, in the depths of my stress, I just saw a seemingly endless to do list which absolutely had to be done – whether I was up to it or not. It’s often so easy to recognise when we have been stressed in the past, but what do we do when we are in the midst of it? How can we learn to recognise what to look out for and react accordingly to reduce it?
A good way to assess whether we are stressed is to be aware of the symptoms that arise. There are a wide variety of symptoms and they fall into three main categories, these being psychological, emotional and physical. Psychological symptoms include memory problems, persistent worrying and poor concentration and the effects of these can serve to actually increase stress. What impact would poor concentration or memory problems have on our work, for example? Emotional symptoms range from mood swings, feeling overwhelmed, an inability to relax and even, in more severe cases, depression.
Surprisingly stress can affect our physical well being too, in some cases causing colds, a loss of sex drive and aches and pains. If these seem all too familiar it is very probable you are in a state of stress. With symptoms including poor concentration, aches and pains and persistent worrying it is natural to feel like tackling stress is just one more thing to worry about but once we understand the basic dynamics of stress, it becomes much easier to combat. The dynamic of stress relates to both the demands and resources we find in our daily lives.
Fundamentally stress occurs when the demands on our time, emotions and energy outweigh the resources we have at our disposal. All of us face three main areas of demands. There are our everyday demands (which can be emotional, physical, financial and social), adjustments to new situations (for example, finding yourself unemployed) and our attitudes and expectations about ourselves and others. In recent years the demands we face in our everyday lives have increased. This issue has been caused, in part, by the medias tireless promotion of being able to have it all. With the media continually portraying images of people having a successful career, an abundance of money, the perfect family, a thriving social life, an immaculate appearance with an enviable wardrobe and an array of interesting hobbies and leisure pursuits to follow, no wonder our desire to have the perfect life endures.
This constant striving to have it all drives us to take on more demands in our daily lives, leading to our everyday demands being relatively high. With our routine demands already high we must draw on our resources even more if we are to manage the additional demands of adjusting to new situations and must actively work on having realistic expectations of both ourselves and others, amongst all the media hype. The list below shows the possible demands we face in detail, take some time now to list which ones apply to you.
Emotional disposition – negative
Energy – poor
Health – bad
Interests – are these demanding?
Do you have any new situations you are adjusting to?
Unrealistic attitudes and expectations of ourselves and others
Thankfully we can manage our demands by drawing on our resources. The resources everyone has at their disposal are our physical health, our skills and experience, our attitudes and beliefs, our emotional make-up, the social support we have in our lives and our ability to relax. The list below details these resources in depth, take a look and pay particular attention to the resources you have but do not often use in times of stress.
Our attitudes and beliefs – be optimistic
Energy – high
Our skills and experience
Health – good
Effective time management
Emotional make up – remain positive
Interests – rewarding
If you feel like stress may be a factor in your life, it is often useful to write a list of both your demands and the resources you are currently drawing on. This can then help you to decipher whether your demands are too high and your balance is overdrawn. If we are still unsure whether our demands are higher than our resources, our behaviour can offer vital clues. Social withdrawal, changes in eating patterns and drinking excessively can all be indicators that our stress levels are too high.
Next week we will examine how we can actively reduce our stress. Are you currently stressed? How have you been handling your stress so far? Which resources do you find most helpful when stressed? Do you have any helpful tips to de-stress? Which resources could you draw more on to boost your resistance to stress? Please comment and share your experiences with our community to gain insight, encouragement and support.
- Write a list your current demands
- Write a list of the resources you are currently drawing on. (HINT: Read from the list above)
- Write a list of the resources you are not drawing on which could help reduce your stress levels and list ways you can begin to draw on them.
‘GUIDED mindfulness meditation CD series’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn, available on Amazon
‘Manage Your Stress for a Happier Life’ by Looker, Terry, Gregson, Olga, available on Amazon