1.Introduction to Stress Management
Stress is one of those buzz words everyone uses at some time or another to describe a not so pleasant experience, an emotional state or a physical condition.
There is stress at work, stress at home, stress related injuries; every part of our lives has the potential to cause us stress. It can have its good points as it encourages us to try new things and push ourselves; it can also have a negative side though.
This kit is designed to help you recognise the signs of stress, understand what effects stress has on your life and how to deal with stress.
2. What is Stress?
Stress can be defined in three ways. The first focuses on the environment’s role as a stimulus, or as a stressor, such as a catastrophic event, major life events and chronic circumstances (a stressful event).
The second approach perceives stress as a response to a stimulus, and the person’s response is called strain (strain is the amount of stress experienced in response to our environment).
The third approach describes stress as a process that includes the first two concepts, but focuses on the interaction between the environment and the person (stress as our behavioural, cognitive and emotional response to a stressful event).
Definition: Stress is the condition that results when person/environment transactions lead the individual to perceive a discrepancy – whether real or not – between the demands of a situation and the resources of the person’s biological, psychological and social systems.
Stress does not necessarily have a negative effect on a person. For example, a certain level of tolerable stress improves performance on many tasks. Also, work can be stressful if it is not sufficiently challenging.
3. Signs of Stress
Below are some signs that you may be experiencing stress.
Vague aches and pains
Skin irritation or rashes
Susceptibility to allergies
Clenched fist or jaws
Rapid weight gain or loss
Loss of concentration
Bad dreams or nightmares
Persistent negative thoughts
More gloomy, depressed
Drained, no enthusiasm
Feeling under attack
Cynical, inappropriate humour
Feeling nervous, apprehensive, anxious
Feelings of pointlessness
Loss of confidence
Less satisfaction in life
Reduced self esteem
Loss of appetite or overeating
Loss of interest in sex
Disturbed sleep or insomnia
Drinking more alcohol
Taking work home more
Too busy to relax
Not looking after oneself
Unable to unwind
Increased problems at home
Poor time management
4. Effects of Long-Term Stress
Where you are under excessive levels of short-term stress, then you may find that your performance goes to pieces.
Afterwards, however, you will be able to treat this as a learning experience and can adopt stress management strategies to avoid the problem in the future.
The effects of long-term stress going out of control can be much more severe. If you do not take action to control it, then the following can happen.
Fatigue and Exhaustion
Steps to remedy this can be as simple as going to bed earlier, or taking a good break. Alternatively re-examine your life and check whether the things you are doing lead to you meeting your personal goals.
This may show you which jobs or commitments you can drop.
Implementing time management strategies may also help you to work more effectively, giving you more time to relax.
High levels of long-term stress may often initiate depression, by failure associated with stress-related under-performance, or by life crises.
Deep depression is a clinical illness and should be treated medically. It is important that if you are depressed that you take this seriously.
Severe depressions that can cause years of unhappiness and low performance can be neutralised quickly with drugs, by the appropriate form of psychotherapy, or by other forms of personal action. An important part of intelligence is knowing when there is a problem, and when to ask for help.
Depression may start when:
You miss important deadlines
You are passed over for promotion
You feel out of control
You are very tired
You are feeling inadequate while getting to grips with a new, difficult job
You are bored for a long period of time
Burnout occurs where highly committed people lose interest and motivation. Typically it will occur in hard working, hard driven people, who become emotionally, psychologically or physically exhausted. You are at risk of burnout where:
You find it difficult to say ‘no’ to additional commitments or responsibilities
You have been under intense and sustained pressure for some time
Your high standards make it difficult to delegate to assistants
You have been trying to achieve too much for too long
You have been giving too much emotional support for too long
Often burnout will manifest itself in a reduction in motivation, volume and quality of performance, or in dissatisfaction with or departure from the activity altogether. Burnout will normally occur slowly, over a long period of time. It may express itself physically or mentally. Symptoms of burnout are shown below:
A feeling of lack of control over commitments
An incorrect belief that you are accomplishing less
A growing tendency to think negatively
Loss of a sense of purpose and energy
Increasing detachment from relationships. This may cause further conflict and stress, adding to the problem.
Where an individual has been under sustained stress for a long period of time, has suffered serious life crises, or has reached a stage of exhaustion and demoralisation, then breakdown may occur.
This may show itself physically as a heart attack, angina or a stroke, or may show as ‘nervous’ or ‘mental’ breakdown, where the sufferer becomes mentally ill.
In the latter case symptoms may not be seen by the individual, but may be obvious to partners, friends and colleagues.
‘Breakdown’ sounds sudden and dramatic – in the case of physical breakdown it may be. Mental breakdown, however, may be slow in onset, and may be mild or severe.
The boundary between prolonged unhappiness or exhaustion and breakdown is blurred – one definition of breakdown may be that the sufferer finally carries out some act that makes it impossible to continue functioning normally in society.
Symptoms of nervous breakdown may be:
Uncharacteristic, uncontrollable, irrational behaviour
Intense and excessive anxiety
Obsessive activity – persistent performance of an irrational activity, or of a normal activity to an irrational degree
Bipolar depression – depression interspersed with periods of euphoria
Destructive and self-destructive behaviour:
Doing stupid things:
o Giving up a good job
o Breaking up good relationships
o Becoming dependent on drugs
5. Biological Implications of Long Term Stress
Stress causes more adrenaline to be supplied to the blood. This leads to an increase in heart rate, pump volume, blood pressure and blood distribution. In the long term, the heart can become overworked if there is a mis-match between blood supply and demand.
If muscles are not conditioned to meet the extra blood supply then changes in blood pressure can damage arteries, leading to a greater likelihood of stroke.
Digestion is put on standby until the emergency is over. Acid can build up in the stomach and products of digestion remain in the bowel, possibly contributing to irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, ulcers, incontinence and cancer of the bowel.
Muscle and Bone
Muscles tense and the body braces itself for action or impact, increasing the chances of muscle cramps, headache, back pain and irregularities in posture.
Nervous System and the Brain
The brain and nervous system respond to stress first by trying to assimilate it and then by trying to accommodate it.
This has important implications for the whole body, including the immune system where susceptibility to illness and psychosomatic symptoms can become common.
Reaction time speeds up or down, giving the impression of aggressive or withdrawn behaviour. Thinking becomes more focused and quicker at the expense of deeper, more sensitive considerations.
Reason gives way to instinctive behaviour. Life patterns change, causing further difficulties as inappropriate responding takes its course.
Many people carry on in the face of adversity, but personal problems, illness, infirmity and disease are accelerated when an imbalance in these (and other) systems is prolonged by unrelenting stress.
6. Causes of Stress
There are many causes of stress in our daily lives. Our expectations of others are a major cause of stress. Below is an outline of some common causes of stress.
Our moods and emotions are intimately tied to our levels of stress. If we have overly high or unrealistic expectations of other people, then we will continually feel let down and annoyed, hence our stress levels will rise.
Whenever we form a relationship with another person, we have expectations about how both we and that person should think, feel and behave. When these expectations are violated, stress can occur.
Job Related Stress
Much job related stress comes from our lack of expertise in handling our emotions and from our general difficulties forming healthy, positive relationships. In addition, we also possess specific work related expectations, such as those about our bosses, managers, co-workers, employees, customers etc.
Public Speaking Stress
Much of the stress we experience when speaking in front of others comes from our desire to have everyone in the audience like you and approve of what you say.
This is essentially impossible, and successful public speakers have learnt to dismiss these expectations and replace them with more realistic ones.
Parents often get stressed when they have strong expectations of how their children should think, feel and behave. Children often won’t follow these guidelines exactly, so hopefully parents can instil appropriate values, virtues and morals into them.
Don’t have the hope that all your expectations will come true, some will, but most not. Also, a child’s development is connected with teachers and other relatives. Keep in mind that usually they all have your child’s best’s interests at heart, but may express it differently from yourself.
Travelling can be a great way to reduce stress, however the reality is that things do not change just because we’re looking for a little time out. Traffic jams, lost luggage and bad weather can often cause unneeded stress.
The legal system does not always work the way we want it to. We expect the system to be fair and just to our cause, however this is not always the case. It is very easy to get angry and have major disappointments when dealing in a legal battle.
In reality, anything can cause us stress if we place too much of an emphasis on it. We live in a hectic world where there are many things competing for our time, money and patience.
7. Mental Techniques to Manage Stress
There are many ways in which to manage stress. Below are some techniques, try some, not all will be suitable or possible for everyone, so see what works for you. Remember what works for one person may not work for another.
By running through a stressful event such as an interview or a speech several times in advance you can polish your performance and build confidence.
By analysing the likely causes of stress, you will be able to plan your responses to likely forms of stress. These might be actions to alleviate the situation or may be stress management techniques that you will use.
It is important that you formally plan for this – it is little use just worrying in an undisciplined way – this will be counter-productive.
Where a situation is likely to be unpleasant, and will not yield any benefit to you, it may be one you can just avoid. You should be certain in your own mind, however, that this is the case.
Reduce the Importance of the Event
If the event seems big, put it in its place along the path to your goals.
Compare it in your mind with bigger events you might know of or might have attended.
If there is a financial reward, remind yourself that there may be other opportunities for reward later. This will not be the only chance you have. Focus on the quality of your performance.
Focusing on the rewards will only damage your concentration and raise stress. If members of your family are watching, remind yourself that they love you anyway. If friends are real friends, they will continue to like you whether you win or lose.
If people who are important to your goals are watching then remind yourself that you may well have other chances to impress them. If you focus on the correct performance of your tasks, then the importance of the event will dwindle into the background.
Uncertainty can cause high levels of stress. The most effective way of countering this is to ask for the information you need. This might be information on your organisation’s performance.
It may involve asking what your employer wants from you in the future, so that you can set the appropriate career development goals.
If you are unsure of how you are doing, ask for a performance review. Where instructions are inconsistent or conflicting, ask for clarification.
We are all aware of how particular environments can be very relaxing, while others can be intensely stressful. The principle behind the use of imagery in stress reduction is that you can use your imagination to recreate a place or scene that is very relaxing.
The more intensely you use your imagination to recreate the place or situation, the stronger and more realistic the experience will be.
Use Thought Awareness
Thought awareness is the process by which you observe your thoughts for a time, perhaps when under stress, and become aware of what is going through your head. It is best not to suppress any thoughts – just let them run their course while you observe them.
Once you are aware of your thoughts, write them down and review them rationally. See whether the thoughts have any basis in reality. Often you find that when you properly challenge negative thoughts they are obviously wrong.
Often they persist only because they escape notice. You may find it useful to counter negative thoughts with positive affirmations. You can use affirmations to build confidence and change negative behaviour patterns into positive ones.
You can base affirmations on clear, rational assessments of fact, and use them to undo the damage that negative thinking may have done to your self-confidence.
Physical Relaxation Techniques
These are useful where stress is caused by physical processes in your body: perhaps where muscles are tense, or where you are experiencing the effects of adrenaline.
Hypnosis has a bad reputation, mostly because people misuse its benefits. Hypnosis is merely a state of mind in which:
You are very relaxed
You are paying complete attention to the suggestions you want to implant
You do not criticise the suggestions made, and accept them at face value.
The idea of meditation is to focus your thoughts on one relaxing thing for a sustained period of time. This rests your mind by diverting it from thinking about the problems that have caused stress.
It gives your body time to relax and recuperate and clear away toxins that may have built up through stress and mental or physical activity.
Many people find relaxation tapes, books and classes to be useful techniques in managing stress.
8. Physical Techniques to Manage Stress
Taking frequent effective exercise is probably one of the best physical stress-reduction techniques available. Exercise not only improves your health and reduces stress caused being unfit, it also relaxes tense muscles and helps you to sleep.
Progressive Muscular Relaxation (PMR) is a purely physical technique for relaxing your body when muscles are tense.
The idea is behind PMR is that you tense up a group of muscles so that they are as tightly contracted as possible. Hold them in a state of extreme tension for a few seconds. Then relax the muscles to their previous state.
Finally you consciously relax them again as much as you can. You can apply PMR to any or all of the muscle groups in your body depending on whether you want to relax just a single area or your whole body.
Deep breathing is a very effective method of relaxation. It is a core component of everything from the ‘take ten deep breaths’ approach to calming someone down, right through to yoga relaxation and Zen meditation.
It works well in conjunction with other relaxation techniques such as Progressive Muscular Relaxation, relaxation imagery and meditation to reduce stress.
Strictly speaking, biofeedback systems are tools to aid relaxation as opposed to stress management techniques.
Biofeedback systems use electronic sensors to measure stress, and then feed the results of this measurement back to you. This feedback may take the form of movement of a pen on a graph plotter, or may be by the pitch of sound coming through earphones.
9. Reducing Long Term Stress
Time Management is a set of related practical skills that help you to use your time in the most effective and productive way possible.
Time management helps you to reduce work stress by being more in control of your time and by being more productive. This ensures that you have time to relax outside work.
The central shift of attitude within time management is to concentrate on results, not on activity. To this end it embraces a range of skills that help you to:
Assess the value of your time, and how effectively you are using it
Focus on your priorities so that you know which tasks should be done, which ones can be delegated, and which ones can be dropped
Plan projects so that they are done properly, with adequate resources
Use the time you have more effectively
Create more time
Manage and avoid distractions
Increase your productivity and personal effectiveness
Attitude is fundamental to long-term stress management. Where your attitude is negative or hostile, you will create problems out of opportunities and cause stress by alienating and irritating other people.
Where you have a positive attitude, you can maintain a sense of perspective and draw the positive elements out of each situation. You will find that people will be more helpful and co-operative as they find you a pleasure to work with.
Keep things in perspective – work your way through a problem, don’t just see it as huge and overwhelming
Take control of the situation – plan the task ahead, set yourself goals, anticipate problems
Learn to welcome change
Learn to work with other people effectively – being cynical and negative won’t help, take on the task with a positive attitude and watch how others respond.
A good way of reducing long-term stress is to take up an unrushable sport or hobby in your own time. If you spend all your working day competing or stressed, then it can be pleasant to be completely non-competitive for some of your non-work time.
A surprising amount of the stress we may experience on a daily basis is caused by the chemicals we consume. By eating or drinking certain things we can actually put our bodies under chemical stress.
If you eat a good, well-balanced diet then you should be able to minimise this sort of chemical stress.
Your body will be receiving all the nutrients it requires to function effectively. As with exercise, there is a lot of bad advice on diet available. You will normally be able to get reliable information on diet from your doctor.
10. Eliminate Stress From Your Environment
If your living and working environments are badly organised then they can be a major source of stress.
If your environment is well organised and pleasant, then it can help to reduce stress and increase productivity.
Remember though that while it may be important for people under stress to have a calm environment, others may enjoy the raised levels of arousal associated with the ‘buzz’ of a busy office.
While the points listed may each contribute only in a small way to creating a more pleasant environment, taken together they can have a significant effect in reducing stress.
11. A to Z of Stress Management
Always take time for yourself, at least 30 minutes per day
Be aware of your own stress meter: know when to step back and cool down
Concentrate on controlling your own situation, without controlling everybody else
Daily exercise will burn off the stress chemicals
Eat lots of fresh fruit, vegies, bread and water, give your body the best to perform at its best
Forgive others, don’t hold grudges and be tolerant – not everyone is as capable as you
Gain perspective on things, how important is the issue?
Hugs and kisses and laughter, have fun and don’t be afraid to share your feelings with others
Identify stressors and plan to deal with them better next time
Judge your won performance realistically, don’t set goals out of your own reach
Keep a positive attitude, your outlook will influence outcomes and the way others treat you
Limit alcohol, drugs and other stimulants, they affect your perception and behaviour
Manage money well, seek advice and save at least 10% of what you earn
No is a word you need to learn to use without feeling guilty
Outdoor activities by yourself, or with friends and family can be a great way to relax
Play your favourite music rather than watching TV
Quit smoking, it is stressing your body daily, not to mention killing you too
Relationships, nurture and enjoy them, learn to listen more and talk less
Sleep well, with a firm mattress and supportive pillow, don’t overheat yourself and allow plenty of ventilation
Treat yourself once a week with a massage, dinner out, the movies, moderation is the key
Understand things from the other person’s point of view
Verify information from the source before exploding
Worry less, it really does not get things completed better or quicker
Xanadu, regularly retreat to your favourite space regularly, make holidays are part of your yearly plan and budget
Yearly goal setting, plan what you want to achieve based on your priorities in your career, relationships etc
Zest for life, each day is a gift, smile and be thankful that you are a part if the bigger picture
12. Where to Get Help
We often cope better with our problems and life stresses by talking to and sharing our feelings with other people.
This may be as simple as talking to your partner or best friend. Other people may find regular sessions with a psychiatrist, social worker or psychologist helpful.
If your organisation has a problem with stressed workers, then perhaps a Stress Management Consultant should be enlisted. Generally though, the following services are available:
Your local GP
Local Community Health Centre (see ‘Community Health Centres in White Pages)
Psychologist, contact the Australian Psychological Association Referral Service on 1800 333 497
Psychiatrist, via referral from your GP
Telephone Counselling (eg. Lifeline 131 114, Salvo Careline 02 9331 6000)
Look under Counselling in the Yellow Pages
Mental Health Information Service: (02) 9816 5688,1800 674 200 (for services in your area)
13. Further Research
There are a number of websites devoted to stress and stress management.
Most even have quick tests you can take to see if you are stressed! They are a great source of information and referral on stress and stress related
www.psychwww.com/mtsite/smpage.html – Mind Tools
www.stresstips.com – Directory of Stress Management Resources
Type Stress Management into a search engine. Sources of Information
Are You Expecting? (1995) Orman, M.C.
www.psychwww.com/mtsite/smpage.html – Mind Tools
www.stresstips.com – Directory of Stress Management Resources
14. Reading List
Dinosaur Brains : Dealing With All Those Impossible People at Work Albert J. Bernstein / Paperback / Published 1996
Freeze-Frame : One Minute Stress Management : A Scientifically Proven Technique for Clear Decision Making and Improved Health Doc Childre(Editor), Bruce Cryer (Editor) / Paperback / Published 1998
Guide to Personal Happiness Albert Ellis, Irving Becker / Paperback / Published 1986
Instant Calm Paul Wilson Penguin Published 1995
Lighten Up : Survival Skills for People Under Pressure C.W. Metcalfe, et al / Paperback / Published 1993
Managing People During Stressful Times : The Psychologically Defensive Workplace Seth Allcorn, Michael A. Diamond / Hardcover / Published 1997
Managing Stress in a Changing World Susan Balfour / Paperback / Published 1998
Stress Blasters: Quick and Simple Steps to Take Control and Perform Under Pressure (Men’s Health Life Improvement Guides) Brian Chichester(Contributor), et al / Paperback / Published 1997
Stress Counseling : A Rational Emotive Behavior Approach Albert Ellis(Editor), et al / Paperback / Published 1997
Stress for Success James E. Loehr, Mark McCormack / Paperback / Published 1998
Stress Management for Busy People (Busy People) Carol A. Turkington, David H. Barlow / Paperback / Published 1998
Stress in Teachers; Past, Present, and Future Jack Dunham(Editor), Ved Varma (Editor) / Paperback / Published 1998
Stress : Living and Working in a Changing World George Manning, et al/Paperback/ Published 1999
Stress Management Depression and Overcoming Addictions Linda Rector Page, et al / Paperback / Published 1997
Surviving Your Boss : How to Cope With Office Politics and Get on With Your Job Ann D. Clark, Patt Perkins (Contributor) / Paperback / Published 1996
The Truth About Burnout : How Organizations Cause Personal Stress and What to Do About It Christina Maslach, Michael P. Leiter (Contributor) / Hardcover / Published 1997
The Stress of Life Hans Selye / Paperback / Published 1978
The Type E* Woman; How to Overcome the Stress of Being *Everything to Everybody Harriet B. Braiker / Published 1986
Time Well Spent : Stress Management for Business and Health Larry Tobin / Paperback / Published 1989
Working Safe : How to Help People Actively Care for Health and Safety E. Scott Geller / Paperback / Published 1996
Working With Difficult People Muriel Solomon / Paperback / Published 1990
MENTAL HEALTH INFORMATION SERVICE
Tel: (02) 9816 5688
Tel: 1800 674 200
(Outside Sydney Metropolitan Areas)
Weekdays: 9.30pm – 4.30pm
Largest information data base of government and non-government mental health services in NSW
Extensive range of mental health publications & videos
Mutual support & self help groups
Referral for a wide range of mental health services
Friendship House, Library & Resource Centre (open to the public 9.30am – 4.30pm Monday-Friday, closed Wednesday 9.00am –12.00 pm)
Mental Health Information Service
Mental Health Association NSW
60-62 Victoria Rd
Gladesville NSW 2111
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