Interestingly enough, stress in itself isn't necessarily harmful. A little bit can actually help motivate you to achieve goals and ambitions. It’s when you’re under too much stress that your health can suffer and in some cases lead to a serious illness. Thankfully, there are a number of simple steps you can take to help manage stress and stressful situations. The first step is to recognise the signs of stress.
How to tell if you're stressed
You may notice small changes in the way you function day-to-day, or the way you think (you may find yourself thinking negatively about things you’re normally optimistic about). Some people find that stress affects their posture; if you’ve tense, aching shoulders and back muscles you might be stressed out. Here are some other examples of more signs to look out for:
- Increased irritability – if you’re feeling unusually snappy or angry and you’re not sure why
- Heightened sensitivity – are you bursting into tears at the smallest thing or getting overly defensive when criticised?
- Smoking or drinking more than usual – all are common signs of increased tension
- Difficulty getting to sleep, insomnia or waking early in the morning – excessive worry can seriously disrupt your sleep pattern
- Headaches, muscle tension, pain or dizziness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Indigestion, headaches, upset stomach – just some of the physical manifestations of stress
If you are experiencing any of these signs on a regular basis please speak to your doctor for further advice.
What you can do to deal with stress
After you’ve noticed that you’re feeling stressed, it’s important to find out why. Take a close look at the things going on in your life. Are you in a particularly stressful situation at home or work? Or are you dealing with a stressful person?
If the cause of your stress isn’t immediately obvious, you could try keeping a ‘stress-busting’ notebook. Take it with you wherever you go and record the times you feel stressed and why. Once you know what causes your stress, you can learn to manage it.
Here are some more stress-busting techniques:
- It can be tempting to hide from people, places or situations that make you stressed out. But this is rarely the best way of dealing with stress. Instead try positive confrontation – grit your teeth, take a deep breath and face things. Taking action will also help to boost your self-esteem.
- Learn how to control the thoughts in your mind with positive self-talk. Turn negative thoughts around, instead of saying to yourself ‘I can’t do it’ say ‘I can do it’ or ‘I’m calm and in control’.
- Use your personal support network of family and friends – bottling up how you feel will only make you feel worse. Talk to people. And if you don’t want to share with those closest to you, you could speak to a doctor or a counsellor.
- If you’re feeling stressed because you’ve too much to do, then you could learn a time management technique. Try labelling tasks: Urgent; Important; Important and Urgent; and Not Urgent and Not Important. Then take action on the most crucial tasks one by one.
- Do some exercise and learn some breathing or relaxation techniques: meditation, yoga, tai chi and pilates are all good ways to help you calm your body and mind.