What is Stress?
Stress is the emotional or mental strains we experience as we strive to adjust to our environment which is always changing.
Is Stress Good or Bad?
Stress can have good (positive) or bad (negative) effects on us depending on how we react to our experiences. As a good effect, stress can:
- Help compel us to action
- Help focus ones attention on the situation at hand.
- Mobilize your energy and prepares you for action (fight or flight).
- Result in a new awareness and an exciting new perspective.
As a bad effect, Stress can have a negative effect when we “buy into” or become entangled with its message.
What are the sources of stress?
- Self – the way one reacts to an experience determines the way one feels (positive or negative).
- Relationships – our expectations of those we relate with influence the way we feel at any given time and situation.
- Environment – a lot of things happen daily in our environment beyond our control. They influence our reactions and the way we feel.
- Transition – change brings growth but human beings are afraid of change. This creates tension in them.
- Hassles – our daily ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ may be very demanding or difficult which in turn affect our emotions.
We could say stress is a physical, mental and emotional response on something, and it is not in our control if something is stressful for us. But we can learn a lot how to deal powerfully with the emergence of stress.
How Does Stress Affect a Person?
When we struggle against stress or adopt its negative messages it affects us physically (body), mentally (mind), emotionally (feelings), behaviorally (automatic actions) and spiritually (beliefs).
How does crisis situations stress affect you in relation to the following?
- In the mind (thinking/feeling)
- In behavior (how we act)
- In the body (physical response)
- In the workplace setting/culture
In the mind
- Feeling anxious, overwhelmed, irritable, angry, upset, sad/depressed, “jumpy”/hyper vigilant, fearful
- Having nightmares, obsessive thinking, emotional or angry outbursts
- Noting poor concentration/memory, poor problem solving or decision making, etc.
- Withdrawing from co-workers, difficulty taking breaks/resting, talking too much
- Angry outbursts (with co-workers or clients), loss or increase of appetite, jumping from one activity to another (unfocused)
- Increased alcohol consumption or smoking, change in normal communications, etc.
In the body
- Fatigue, headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, muscle tightness (neck, shoulders, jaw)
- Sweating, shallow breathing, rapid heart rate, teeth grinding, etc.
- Feelings of loss or direction and purpose, emptiness
- Feeling punished, apathy, crisis of faith, etc.
In the workplace
- Low morale, apathy, silence, impaired communication, isolation, lack of teamwork and team spirit
- Low productivity, aggressive or confrontational behavior, high rates of absenteeism due to stress and illness, drug and alcohol abuse, etc.
How can one manage stress?
ACT (Acceptance Commitment Training) – is a behavioral therapy that aims to help people create rich, full and meaningful lives, whilst accepting that life inevitably brings pain. ACT uses mindfulness exercises to help handle painful thoughts and feelings, and supports taking action in a valued direction to achieve goals that really matter.
What happens at first when we do what is familiar?
- It feels comforting.
- The world feels normal.
- It is familiar.
- It is convenient.
- It gives confidence
It feels fulfilling / satisfying.
What happens when we do things differently?
- Sometimes it feels like we are doing it wrongly.
- We feel confused.
- We feel lost.
- It feels unfamiliar.
- It creates inconveniences.
- It feels strange.
- It reduces confidence
Basic Stress Management Techniques/Coping Skills
1: Recognize warning signs of excessive stress
- Self-awareness is the foundation of stress management – Feeling overwhelmed at work or in your personal life is draining and can make you feel irritable, withdrawn and ineffective. Many of us feel stress so often that it begins to feel normal. The first step in better managing your stress is to simply recognize it, so that it does not grow into bigger problems – affecting your physical and emotional health. We can learn simple ways to “check ourselves” for stress.
- Become aware of stress by observing your muscles, insides and your breath
If you notice muscle tension or other internal signals (such as tightness in your jaw or hands, neck, tightness in your stomach, headache), your body is telling you that you are under excessive stress. Another signal of stress is when you notice that your breathing becomes shallow, or when you “forget” to breathe (versus relaxed deeper belly breathing).
2: Reduce Stress through Self-Care
- The better you feel, the better you will be prepared to confront stress without being overwhelmed. This means taking care of your health physically and emotionally. Even small things can help you to have more energy and feel more in control of your situation, both at home and at work. Some self-care ideas include:
- Exercise – When we move our bodies our heart rate is elevated, which helps to lift our mood, increase energy, and relax our mind and body. Try to get at least 30 minutes of activity most days. If it is difficult to find that much time in your day, break the activity into two or three shorter segments. Try walking, stretching, or participate in a sport (examples might include football, dancing, etc.)
- Socialize and Connect with others – Talk with your family or friends when you feel stressed. Simply sharing your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust can help. Develop friendships with your co-workers, as this can help protect you from the negative effects of stress. Find a “vent partner” – a trusted friend who you know will listen to you and give objective advice. Listening and supporting one another can relieve stress.
- Take Breaks, Time away
When you become aware that stress is mounting, take a quick break to move away from the situation. Go on a quick brisk walk, take a minute to meditate or pray. Sometimes physical movement, engaging in positive self-talk and changing your environment can help you to “reset” and enhance your ability to cope.
- Make Healthy Food and Drink Choices – Eat healthy meals and snacks, including fresh fruits and vegetables daily. Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated. If you get hungry between meals, eat snacks with protein (such as groundnuts, cashew nuts, etc.) to keep your energy up during the day. Avoid foods with lots of salt, sugar (including sweets, juice and soda drinks), and processed foods, as these types of foods can make you tired and more vulnerable to health problems. Use caffeine in moderation, as your mood and energy can “crash” afterwards
- Avoid Drinking, Smoking or Taking Pills or Drugs to Relax – Alcohol can temporarily reduce stress, but it can be hard on the body and lead to abuse and dependence. Similarly, the nicotine found in tobacco can be temporarily calming, and later lead to higher levels of anxiety and health problems. Medications to ease pain, like any drugs, can help us to feel better in the short term but do not address underlying stressors and can become addictive.
- Practice Healthy Sleeping Habits – Getting adequate sleep is critical. When you are rested you are better equipped to deal with stress during the day. Aim for eight hours of sleep a night and take naps if you are able. Arrange your sleeping area so it is comfortable for you and avoid watching TV, working on the computer, worrying, arguing, etc. before going to bed.
- Enjoy Cultural, Spiritual and Social Activities- Get engaged with your community for song, dance, and cultural activities. It is good to express yourself and socialize with your neighbors. Another critical part of self-care involves nurturing your spiritual side – so try to make time for self-reflection, meditation and prayer
- Look for humor – When used appropriately, humor can be a great way to release stress. When you feel things are getting too serious or heavy, look for ways to lighten the mood by sharing a joke or story. It is important to have fun and laugh, even at work.
- Know your limits – Don’t over commit yourself! Don’t try to fit too much into one day. If you feel you have too much on your plate, prioritize and drop tasks that are not essential. Ask for hel Learn to say “no” and set limits when you are asked to take on more than you can handle. If you feel overwhelmed at work, ask to meet with your manager and discuss how best to prioritize the tasks at hand.
- Create a balanced schedule- Analyze your schedule, responsibilities and daily t Plan at least one fun or enjoyable social activity into your schedule every day. Find a balance between work and family; alone time is also important to avoid burnout.
- Deep Breathing- Deep breathing is a simple but very effective method of relaxatio It can be used to “take a deep breath” to calm someone down in a crisis, as well as in mediation, prayer or during slow stretching of your muscles. You can use this technique in combination with other relaxation techniques (visualization exercise) to reduce stress.