The Mental Health Organisation states “Stress can be defined as a degree to which you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope as a result of pressure that are unmanageable” whereas the Oxford Dictionary states stress is “A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances”
But who really knows? Can you really put a concrete definition on a feeling? Do we even know when we’re experiencing stress?
I’m not going to talk about stress as a diagnosis but rather as a feeling or a force to be controlled or contained. I’m going to tackle stress on a human level. Everyone has different experiences of stress, some may rub their face or put their head in their hands, others may suffer panic or anxiety attacks, either way, stress is stress and it has a detrimental effect on our health. I like to think of stress as a spectrum much like the autist spectrum, its simply down to recognising on each day where on the spectrum you are falling and how you can move further down.
Someone once told me “Humans were not supposed to deal with the level of activity, tasks and pressure they do, our brains just can’t handle it and we call it stress” I never forgot this. I like to think back to cavemen, what their primary needs and actions would have been and I compare it to my current life and suddenly I understand daily stress on a level I didn’t before. These thoughts ground me; remind me to slow myself way down.
We don’t often think of stress as a consistent condition or diagnosis, we think of it as something that comes and goes much like “emotional cramps”, like anything if we can’t see the effects, we tend not to pay attention; until we start to see the spots on our face, our sweaty palms, banging headaches or pulsing heart rate we tend to just pass our feelings off as “I’m just a bit stressed”. By no stretch of the imagination am I saying we need to drop our jobs, homes, lives and move to a field and live off the land, but we do need to recognise our own stress levels and those things in our life which are no longer benefiting our life.
I could sit and list the symptoms of stress, much like I would a cold but the list would be nearly never-ending because stress encompasses a vast range of mental, emotional and physical symptoms, some you may recognise and stress and others you may not notice at all! Afterall not all stress is bad, there is a level of stress which tends to spur us on in the form of adrenaline. We get ourselves into a heightened state which allows us to perform functionally and well. It’s recognising when this stress is bordering over into destructive and non-productive which seems to be the key.
I’m used to identifying my emotions due to suffering from anxiety for such a long period. It becomes second nature for me to stop and analyse whether my feelings and behaviours as natural or anxious thoughts. I know when I’m on the cusp of burning out and I can tell when I’m about to snap (often I prewarn people) just because you can identify the emotion does not always mean you can control it!
Identifying stress or stressful occurrences, places or people in your life truly is key! In our muddled minds of daily chores, tasks, work and family, we can often lose sight of the primary cause of our stress and instead apply it to everything in a single day as a contributor.
I’ve used this pyramid before in my blog to demonstrate how a single day’s events can quickly get away from you. As you can see a series of events can pile on top of each other and that stressful haze falls over you until a clear sight of what triggered you initially can no longer be seen.
Many people have different techniques to get on top of their stress and most of these things tend to be techniques that are implemented when those stressful feelings are already apparent and you need to be relieved of them. Such things are yoga, exercise or sleep. These techniques are physical stress relievers and like I’ve said and usually of benefit when you have already recognised you are stressed, but they are short term fixes. In order to fully get a handle on your stress, you need to identify the factors in your life which are creating it or adding to it; much like anything, it’s all about finding the root cause not addressing the symptoms. You can try our blog looking at ways to reduce anxiety for more inspiration on conquering these feelings when they emerge.
I created the Discovery Journal with this in mind. With each entry, there are sections of which you can rate your day based on the tasks, people and places you have experienced.
Filling in these sections over a period of time will give you a better understanding of which events are causing a pattern of stressful behaviour….after all if you are rating your work 2/10 consistently over a yearly period, you may want to consider a change of workplace or further analysing what it is about work that is causing you the most stress; it could simply be the actions of another person or that someone keeps stealing your yoghurt from the fridge. Once something is written down, these patterns become more manageable to address.