Stress is how we react when we feel under pressure or threatened. It usually happens when we are in a situation that we don’t feel we can manage or control.

When we experience stress, it can be as:

  • An individual
  • Part of a group
  • Part of your community
  • A member of society

Stress triggers

Examples of stress triggers include:

Individual triggers:

  • Financial problems
  • Health problems
  • Work-related problems

Group triggers:

  • Bereavement
  • Financial problems

Community triggers:

  • Shared discrimination
  • Violence in the community
  • Political conflicts

Societal triggers

  • Natural disasters
  • Pandemics
  • Economic issues

Symptoms

When a person has long-term (chronic) stress, continued activation of the stress response causes wear and tear on the body. Physical, emotional, and behavioural symptoms develop.

Physical symptoms of stress include:

  • Aches and pains
  • Chest pain or a feeling like your heart is racing
  • Exhaustion or trouble sleeping
  • Headaches, dizziness or shaking
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle tension or jaw clenching
  • Stomach or digestive problems
  • Trouble having sex
  • Weak immune system.

Stress can also lead to emotional and mental symptoms like:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Struggling to make decisions
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Disorganization
  • Constantly worrying
  • Being forgetful
  • Anxiety or irritability
  • Panic attacks
  • Withdrawal
  • Tension

Behavioural symptoms include:

  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Avoiding certain places or people

Unhealthy coping behaviours include:

  • Drinking alcohol too much or too often
  • Overeating or developing an eating disorder
  • Participating compulsively in sex, shopping, or internet browsing
  • Using drugs

What are some ways to prevent stress?

Many daily strategies can help you keep stress at bay:

  • Try relaxation activities, such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, breathing exercises and muscle relaxation. Programs are available online, in smartphone apps, and at many gyms and community centres
  • Take good care of your body each day. Eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep help your body handle stress much better
  • Stay positive and practice gratitude, acknowledging the good parts of your day or life
  • Accept that you can’t control everything. Find ways to let go of worry about situations you cannot change
  • Manage your boundaries and learn to say “no” to additional responsibilities when you are too busy or stressed
  • Stay connected with people who keep you calm, make you happy, provide emotional support and help you with practical things. A friend, family member or neighbour can become a good listener or share responsibilities so that stress doesn’t become overwhelming

Building resilience

Building Resilience is the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioural flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands. By introducing the below techniques, we can work on managing stressful situations.

Introducing boundaries:

Personal boundaries are rules or limits that we identify as acceptable behaviour and set ourselves to ensure respect, dignity, and safety. They are also important for our self-care. There are different types of boundaries that we can introduce, however, the main three include physical, emotional and time boundaries.

Examples of boundaries that we can set ourselves include:

  • Introducing a time in the evening when we either turn off our phones or at least the notifications, as overuse of screen time in the evening means you are not present in your surroundings and to the people around you and it can also affect your sleep schedule.
  • Ensuring that you are providing adequate time for each aspect of your life, including, self-care, hobbies, social and work.
  • Allowing yourself space. This could be from work (such as taking vacation time), from a relationship or friend. This prevents us from burnout and allows us time to reflect on our experiences.

Active hope

Active hope, introduced by Chris Johnstone and Joanna Macy, is a technique that educates us on how to become active participants in accomplishing what we hope for. It also helps us with how to respond to stressful situations in the best possible way and overcome feelings of powerlessness or overwhelm which can block us from action.

  • The first stage to adopting the active hope approach is to have a clear sense of your reality.
  • The second stage is to identify what you hope for in terms of the direction that you would like things to move towards.
  • The third and final stage is to take steps to move yourselves or your situation in the desired direction.

To help achieve the last stage and decrease any potential stress when planning what steps you can take to move in the direction you want, you can ask yourselves three questions:

  1. What is the best that can happen?
  2. What is the worst that can happen?
  3. What is most likely to happen?

 

Then when you have a clearer idea of the best and worst possible outcomes, you can think about what steps you can take to make the better options more likely and the less favourable options less likely. These and these should be attainable and measurable.

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