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Stress Management

What is Stress?

"Oh, I'm so stressed out at work."
"My boss is really stressing me out.."
"I'm too stressed to think about dieting right now"

Sound familiar?

All of us experience stress in our day to day lives. Modern life is highly stressful, with many demands and not enough time to carry them out. We all seem to know what another person means when they talk about being stressed. But what is stress?
Basically, stress is a state of physiological (in the body) and psychological (in the mind) tension, which occurs in response to various life pressures. Having too much stress is very destructive. Some of the detrimental effects of long-term or chronic stress include the following:

Although there is a tendency to label all our unpleasant feelings as 'depression', there are clearly some people whose depression is much more severe than others. Severe depression that occurs for no obvious reason, or that continues for a long time despite the occurrence of pleasant life events and encouragement from friends, is called `major depression' or a 'depressive disorder'.

  • Tiredness

  • Being easily startled

  • Tension, causing headaches and pain in various muscles in the body

  • Trouble keeping the mind on present activities

  • Constipation or diarrhoea

  • Urinating too frequently

  • Trouble falling or staying asleep

  • Difficulty concentrating because of

  • Feeling overwhelmed or unable to

  • Feeling depressed or demoralised

  • Social or occupational difficulties

Any of these features may serve as a warning signal of depression although many may also occur in disorders other than depression.

Chronic stress has been linked to other serious health problems, including hypertension, coronary heart disease, and stroke. Migraine headaches, peptic ulcers, arthritis, colitis, asthma, cardiac arrhythmia, sexual problems, circulation problems, allergies, and even cancer have been linked with stress.

Having either too little or too much stress results in a deterioration of performance and unpleasant psychological and physical effects. In order to achieve and maintain an optimum level of stress, we need to have an awareness of the demands placed upon us, and adequate coping strategies to manage those demands.

What Makes us Stressed?

Stress occurs when too many demands are placed on us, or when the resources which we have to cope with stress are inadequate to deal with the demands. Demands can include:

  • Major life events - significant things that can happen to us, which can be positive (getting married) or negative (the death of a loved one).

  • Internal demands - these are the expectations we have of ourselves. If these are unrealistic ("I must be perfect in everything I do"), or rigid ("There is only one way to do things), they can be intolerable sources of stress. People who worry habitually may consider themselves to be sensitive and overly emotional. There are advantages in being like this since this sensitivity often means they can understand other people quickly and hence are often liked in return. But their emotionality and their proneness to worry can be a handicap. Pessimism and negativity may also generate unnecessary stress. These traits are the seeds from which anxiety problems can grow.

  • Environmental demands - these are the practical, unremarkable, everyday things such as financial problems or becoming tired of our routine, that add further pressure and strain to our lives.

  • Interpersonal demands - these are the pressures placed upon us through our relationships with other people. This may include stressful circumstances such as disagreements with the boss, marital disagreements, or the responsibility and frustration associated with being a parent.

Stress Management Strategies​

Being able to deal with stress in an effective way can help to prevent the nasty health problems associated with stress - high blood pressure, heart disease, and ulcers. Good stress management involves using a number of different strategies which complement each other.

Stress management involves learning the following strategies:

  • Combating the physical symptoms of stress - through breathing retraining and learning muscle relaxation techniques. Controlling stress at a physical level is a crucial skill to master in combating stress.

  • Dealing with internal demands - we all have an internal dialogue, a conversation inside our heads, which operates in our daily life. This narrative has a major influence on our feelings and actions. Not all thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes that we hold are necessarily helpful or useful to us. Stressed people tend to think thoughts which increase their stress in everyday situations. Thoughts like these which tend to be unhelpful are known as `negative thoughts'. Stress management teaches people to identify and change those negative thoughts which are contributing to their stress levels. For example, a person might have the unrealistic belief that "I must please people all the time". This belief may then lead the person to working until all hours, in order to 'please' the boss. Cognitive behavioural stress management strategies helps the person to identify and change this belief. In this case, the person's new, modified belief may be "You can't please everyone all of the time, and I'm not going to hold onto any more unrealistic expectations of myself."

  • Dealing with environmental demands - Environmental demands are the practical, unremarkable, everyday things that add further pressure and strain to our lives. There are some useful strategies which you can use to help cope with these demands. These may include learning assertiveness and communication skills, problem solving skills, goal setting, and time management.

  • Looking after yourself - through diet & exercise change, getting good social support, and making sure there is lots of laughter in your life.

A Treat Yourself Well Sydney psychologist or clinical psychologist will take you through an individually tailored stress management program, suited to your unique needs. You will start to see results from the beginning of this highly effective program. Usually, 6 sessions are all that is needed to effect lasting change.


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