What is Stress?
Stress is a feeling you have when you face a situation you think you cannot manage. You can feel anxious, irritable, forgetful, sleepless and unable to cope. There are many different ways to deal with stress, once you understand the causes. A regular daily routine that includes a nutritious diet, exercise and regular sleep also help.
- Stress is a normal reaction to any pressure or change
- It involves physical and mental arousal which helps us respond to these pressures by motivating us and increasing our ability to focus
- Stress becomes unhealthy when it lasts for a long time or the emotional or physical aspects become overwhelming.
- Stress can make us feel uptight, angry, overwhelmed and long-term stress can lead to depression.
How to Recognise Stress
The following table lists some of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress.
What Can Cause Stress?
A multitude of factors can cause stress. Some of the common ones are:
- Change (e.g., moving house, jobs, start or end of a relationship)
- Conflict or bullying (e.g., in a relationship, with work colleagues, at school)
- Expectations to perform (e.g., exams, work)
- Health issues or disability of self or family
- Death of loved ones
- New responsibilities
- Time pressure (insufficient time to get a particular task done)
- Too many tasks and responsibilities
The situations and pressures that cause stress are known as stressors. We usually think of stressors as being negative, such as an exhausting work schedule or a rocky relationship. However, anything that puts high demands on you or forces you to adjust can be stressful. This includes positive events such as getting married, buying a house, going to college, or receiving a promotion.
Of course, not all stress is caused by external factors. Stress can also be self-generated, for example, when you worry excessively about something that may or may not happen, or have irrational, pessimistic thoughts about life.
What causes stress depends, at least in part, on your perception of it. Something that’s stressful to you may not faze someone else; they may even enjoy it. For example, your morning commute may make you anxious and tense because you worry that traffic will make you late. Others, however, may find the trip relaxing because they allow more than enough time and enjoy listening to music while they drive.
Common external causes of stress
Common internal causes of stress
Stress Management Techniques
The following stress tips from the APS can help you look after your mind and body, and reduce stress and its impact on your health.
- Time management
- Setting realistic goals
- Relaxation strategies
- Helpful thinking and coping self-talk
1. Time management
One of the main causes of stress is being overwhelmed by daily tasks. Deadlines, pressures, our own expectations and fears of failure to do things within a short space of time can make us feel stressed. When we fail to accomplish our tasks we are often left feeling hopeless, frustrated, or inadequate. Learning to manage your time effectively can help decrease the stress associated with daily living. One strategy to accomplish this can be to develop a ‘to do’ list, prioritise items on the list, and then ‘tick off’ tasks as they are accomplished.
2. Goal setting
Planning your short- and long-term goals is an important component of stress management. It is important that any such goals are clearly defined (not vague), as well as being realistic and achievable. It is also important to plan out how you will achieve each goal, to monitor your progress toward goals and then reward yourself for achieving them.
3. Relaxation strategies
There are specific techniques you can learn to help you to relax such as diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and attentional relaxation. These techniques are easy to learn and help to reduce physical tension and stress in your body.
- Diaphragmatic breathing involves slowing your breathing rate down, and using your diaphragm (the muscle at the base of your lungs) to take slow, regular breaths. This is referred to as a ‘portable’ strategy because you can use it to manage stress anywhere and any time.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) involves systematically tensing and releasing different muscle groups in the body and focusing on the difference between feeling relaxed and feeling tense.
- Attentional Relaxation involves focusing as much of your attention as possible to something that you are imagining in your mind. For example, counting backwards from 100 by 3’s, or picturing a scene using all of your five senses.
- Taking time-out: As well as specific techniques, you can relax and reduce stress by doing anything that you enjoy, such as listening to music, going for a walk, playing with a pet, going to the gym, yoga, etc.
4. Helpful thinking and Coping Self-Talk
This type of self-talk is not about putting on a pair of ‘rose-coloured glasses’ and pretending that things are fine when they are not. Instead it involves acknowledging the difficulties that you may be experiencing and thinking about the situation in the most realistic way possible.
Examples of coping statements include:
“It feels awful and unbearable but I can deal with it”
“What I am feeling is normal anxiety and it will pass with time”
“I’m going OK. I’ll just keep going slowly and do the things I can. “
- Stress Tips – LIFE Psychology
- Stress – Better Health Channel
- Stress Symptoms, Signs and Causes – Helpguide.org
- Reducing Stress Factsheet – Beyondblue
- HANDOUT: Stress Kit – Mental Health Association NSW
If you would like to find out more about our treatment for Stress, or to book an appointment with one of our psychologists who specialise in this area, please call the LIFE Psychology clinic on 1300 084 200.