What is stress?
We usually define stress as the tension or pressure we feel in our minds, and sometimes also in our bodies. In modern times, stress is a regular part of daily life, so it’s important to learn how to manage it. A little bit of stress is not always harmful because it is often the impetus for us to grow and overcome new challenges and fulfil our goals. For example, when you start university or a new job, you might feel some stress while trying to adapt to the new environment, adapt to a new routine, perform to expectations or make new friends.
However, too much stress can be harmful, especially over extended periods. High stress levels could lower your performance, stop you from enjoying life and create problems in your relationships. The body copes with stress by creating the hormone cortisol. But high levels of cortisol in the long term could lead to insulin resistance and even diabetes if not addressed quickly. Any such imbalance can make us anxious and struggle to cope with our daily routines.
We tend to believe stress comes from external factors like family, friends, sickness or school but these factors themselves aren’t stressful events. What makes them stressful is how we react to these events and what we think about them. People might interpret events in a variety of ways and therefore different people become stressed by different events. This means the external factor isn’t enough to term something stress by itself; it is the relationship with the person that makes it stressful.
How do we know we are suffering from stress?
Stress indicators falls into 4 groups: emotional, mental, behavioural and physical. You might experience one or more at the same time.
Emotional indicators of stress
- If you are worrying a great deal or feel anxious
- You feel fearful often
- Feelings of worthlessness and insecurity
- You get easily offended or agitated
- If you feel embarrassed easily
Mental indicators of stress
- Lack of self confidence
- Negative thoughts about the future
- Your mind is constantly full of thoughts
- Constant daydreaming and inability to focus
Behavioural indicators of stress
- You find it difficult to make decisions compared to in the past
- Avoiding family and friends
- Crying for no specific reason
- Out of the ordinary actions and speech
- Grinding your teeth
- Increased intake of cigarettes, medicines or alcohol
- Becoming more accident prone
Physical indicators of stress
- Heavy perspiration on body and palms
- Increased heartbeat
- Shivering in the body
- Dryness of mouth and throat
- Tiring easily
- Visiting the bathroom often
- Sleep disorder / more or less
- Diarrohea, indigestion or vomiting, problems in the digestive system
- Stomach cramps or headaches
- Increased PMS in women
- Aching in your neck and back
- Loss of appetite or overeating
- Getting sick often
Both positive and negative life events can lead to stress. Big changes such as moving house, starting a new job or way of life, marriage, pregnancy, divorce and separation, the death of a loved one, losing your job, bankruptcy, and chronic diseases can all be considered factors that lead to stress. Some related effects could be meeting deadlines, competition, financial problems, noise or disappointments.
How to cope with stress
One of the biggest problems is that people tend to re-live stressful events in their minds, reacting to past situations that are often outside of their control. This brings a feeling of helplessness. If we can change how we react to situations and focus on the things we can control we can regain our inner balance. We think our happiness is based on the actions of others and we try to change them. We would attain success faster if we tried to change ourselves rather than others.
We should first determine which parts of our lives are stressful, what is specifically disturbing us in that area, which feelings we are experiencing and how we are reacting to them. We can then think of what we can do to change this situation. This would be an important step.
Many types of stress can be changed, eliminated and reduced. You can try the following to lower your stress level:
- Strengthen positive thoughts about yourself and focus on your good points and achievements. Tell yourself that you can handle the situation and you will do the best you can.
- Do not forget that it is important to live in the present. Constantly thinking about the past or future prevents you from enjoying the present.
- Having to make decisions is also stressful and we constantly delay them. Make a list of all the things you need to decide on and see what information you need and how you can obtain it. Take up your options one at a time and weigh the pros and cons.
- Ambiguity creates stress. Gather information about the unknown areas of your life.
- Our values are important in the decisions we make. Stress becomes unavoidable when we are stuck in between. Review your values and go over what you feel is important for you in life (success, health, family, friends, self respect, freedom, etc)
- Most of us feel unhappy in the face of conflict because we all dream of leading problem-free lives. We question why things happen to us. But there are other realities that we need to accept. For instance, it is not possible for us to make everyone happy or for everyone to love us. We need the courage to see and change that.
How to move forward
Let’s make a positive start tomorrow! What is one small thing that you can change that can lead you to a brighter, newer future? Remember that it’s only by making a change that we can create different results. Let’s choose something that you easy that you won’t avoid and that you will enjoy doing – and let’s make it a habit to do it every day. Celebrate your success as you develop a new habit and gradually introduce more new habits. This is a great way to pull yourself out of the paralysis of stress!
A new habit to relieve stress
Try this tomorrow and then every day after that to start you on a journey to inner peace.
- Get up tomorrow and have a cool glass of water. Place it by your bed before you sleep so you don’t forget. The water will energise you and help you wake up.
- Meditate for 7 minutes – close your eyes and focus on your breathing – or follow one of the guided meditations from my previous journal posts.
Try to do this every day for 2 weeks or until you feel it’s become a habit. Then try adding a new habit, such as 10 mins of exercise. Through new habits for self care everyday you will gradually find your stress more manageable and your energy and inner balance will return.