Stress although not an illness itself, can lead to ill health. It is our reaction to pressure and challenge. Stress can be positive and bring about action in response to a demand, and a healthy amount of stress is required to survive.
However, stress is detrimental to our well-being when we are unable to meet the demands made and physical, emotional and mental strain, termed ‘stress’ results. Stress is a problem when you feel pressurized and unable to cope with the demands of a situation.
When we are faced with threat, the ‘fight, flight, freeze or faint’ response known as the stress response is triggered and gives us the strength to deal with the challenge. Normal functioning is resumed once action has been taken. Problems occur when these bodily changes which were designed as a short-term aid to survival are experienced too frequently and for too long. In today’s pressurized environment one stressful incident is followed by another, then another. Our body does not get a chance to revert to a state of calm.
Stress can affect your mental ability to work by:
Making it difficult to think clearly.
Leading to a loss of creativity.
Making memory worse.
Reducing ability to plan work.
Reducing ability to prioritize.
Reducing control of your work.
An imbalance in emotional state is caused by stress and affects our ability to work effectively. You may feel:
Upset and tearful.
Irritable and angry.
Anxious and apprehensive.
Unable to enjoy things.
Powerless and unable to cope.
Withdrawn into yourself.
Unsuccessful – a failure.
Stress is apparent in our behaviour as a sense of initial urgency as the stress response is triggered and eventually exhaustion sets in, shown by decreased activity, lethargy and lack of interest. The physical signs of stress include aches, cramps, rashes, loss of libido, breathlessness and heart palpitations. Absence from work is mainly due to stress-related illnesses, and stress can make work relationships difficult – everyone’s work and well-being suffers.
Monitor over a period of time the signs of stress in your behaviour. Note whether the warning is emotional, behavioural, physical or mental. What is the warning sign and how do you know?
There is a range of strategies which can help you to control the stress response and focus your energy appropriately for the workplace.
To develop your own stress management plan you need to:
Know yourself and what affects your stress response.
Identify what causes you to experience stress.
Anticipate stress so you can implement strategies for coping.
Choose whether to eliminate the stressor, alter your perception of it, or to change your behaviour.
Develop a personality and lifestyle that prevents harmful stress in the future.
See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Problem-Solving.
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You need to monitor your stress and become familiar with what sets it off and the thoughts, feelings and actions associated with the anxiety. You can do this by keeping a diary. When you feel anxious note the date and time. What was the event? Rate your distress 1-10 (1 is no distress and 10 is extreme panic). What caused your anxiety? What was your response to cope with the problem? Re-rate your distress.
Spend two weeks monitoring your stress levels. Note what triggers your distress; your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations when distressed; how your distress levels vary with different situations; what you tend to do when distressed and what is the best way for you to cope with your distress.
Make two lists – one of short-term only coping strategies and the other of long-term coping strategies. You can refer to these when you feel stressed. Try to incorporate more of the long-term strategies into your set of coping techniques and attempt to gradually abandon your short-term methods. Avoid turning to stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine, or alcohol as coping methods. These have unpleasant effects in the long-term.
See Program 4: Overcoming Addiction.
Study your diary to determine what drives your cycles of distress. Is it bodily, psychological, behavioural or social?
See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Forgiveness, Program 6: Overcoming Anger, Program 8: Overcoming Anxiety, Program 12: Overcoming Depression, Program 15: Overcoming Grief And Bereavement and Program 23: Overcoming Stress At Work.
Prioritize the important areas of your life and allocate a reasonable amount of time to each area.
Deal with distorted thinking.
See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Modifying Maladaptive Thinking.
An activity schedule can ensure you make optimum use of your time.
See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Planning an Activity Schedule.
Build a positive body image.
See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Criticism, Countering Self-Criticism, Improving Your Self-Image and Combating Self-Harm and Coping with the Need for Approval.
Form a good support network.
See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Social Skills Training, Communication Training, Negotiation Training, Troublesome Emotions and Program 13: Overcoming Destructive Relationships.
Eat healthily, get adequate sleep and exercise regularly.
See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Nutrition, Exercise, Managing Your Time and Sleep Management.
Ensure you have time for relaxation and recreation.
See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice - Meditation, Creative Visualization, Autogenics and Self-Hypnosis.
Deal with your distress in situations you fear by exposure – FEAR (face everything and recover).
See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Controlled Breathing and Relaxation Techniques, Eye Movement Technique (EMT), Mood Induction Procedure, Rational Emotive Imagery (REI), Imago Graded Exposure and In Vivo Graded Exposure.
Develop your confidence.
See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Building Confidence I, Building Confidence II, Building Confidence III, Building Confidence IV, Assertiveness Training, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Program 16: Overcoming Low Self-Esteem.
For further coping strategies:
See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Competitiveness and Perfectionism, Frustration, Procrastination and Persistence.
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You may encounter difficulty in giving up old habits for new ones. Before you allow yourself to be distracted from practising your new habits, weigh the pros and cons and make a responsible decision for when and where you will next do the exercise. Confront your excuses. Proceed in small steps, gradually implementing changes and building on each little success.
It could take some time for your new habits to become second nature but at that point you will have made the final step forward in overcoming your stress.
See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Relapse Prevention.
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