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3 Ways to Improve Your Response to Stress

Stress is part of being human, we are wired to react to challenges that result in experiencing stress. A certain amount of stress is ok. We start to experience stress as distressing when the demands that are placed on us exceed our perceived ability to cope. That is, we don’t feel we have the internal resources to manage the situation.

Prolonged periods of stress can lead to mental health consequences. Stress is linked to the development of depression and anxiety. A longitudinal study which followed a group of people born in Dunedin NZ in 1975, found that the young people who experienced increased work place stress were more likely to develop mental health issues, interestingly all workers were at risk, not just those who had mental health vulnerabilities. In particular, those with excessive workloads and extreme time pressure were twice as likely to develop major depression as those with less demanding workplaces. Carer stress has also been associated with increased levels of distress and psychological symtomotology.

The good news is that there are some practical things that we can do to mitigate the impact of stress. Keeping in mind that we can’t completely eliminate stress from our lives, we can develop ways to increase our coping skills.

Awareness of Triggers

Start to take account of your personal stress triggers. When you know a stressful time is looming, you can prepare yourself and initiate some stress reducing behaviour. For students this may mean being sensitive to the time around assignment or exam time, for workers before a work deadline, for carers spending more time with the person you are supporting, for parents identifying times when children are more likely to be challenging in their behaviour.

Taking Notice of Your Body

Start noticing if your body is trying to let you know that you are experiencing higher levels of stress. Be sensitive to changes in your sleep pattern, getting tension headaches, feeling generally less patient with your family and friends. Everyone is an individual and may experience increased stress in a different ways, so try and work out your stress signature.

Stress Reduction Techniques

There are a range of active stress busting strategies you can put in place, here are some that can be added to your week:

I. Developing a regular routine can be helpful in managing stress. This allows our bodies to gain a sense of what to expect and there is a natural flow between a stressful event and time to rest and recuperate. Create a daily structure for your exercise, meal times and relaxation.

2. Social connections are important in fostering resilience and reducing stress. Try to spend time with people you care about and value you.

3. Take care of your health, as best you can. Eat a balanced diet, take regular exercise and get involved in activities that you enjoy and look forward to.

4. Take time to notice how you are thinking about stressful events. Often judging your experiences as overwhelming or negative may actually increase your suffering. Taking the stance of calming yourself using some helpful self talk such as, ‘I can get through this.’  Develop skills in problem solving and identifying what you have the ability to change.

5. Practice relaxation and mindfulness. There is mounting evidence that practicing relaxation and mindfulness can enhance our coping abilities. In a recent study, an online mindfulness practice had the impact of reducing the participants’ experience of stress.

My personal favourite tip is to reflect, what am I getting so worked up about? I try and look at the bigger picture, then focus on taking some slow breaths and prioritise what I need to do now. And for preventative maintenance, I go swimming after work in the ocean!

These practical steps should reduce our experience of stress, remembering we can’t rid stress from our lives but we can develop ways to reduce its impact. And if you’re feeling that you’d like some personalised advice on how to manage the stress in your life, come in and see us. We’re here to help.

References

Work stress precipitates depression and anxiety in young working, men and women, Melchior, Caspi, Milne et al, Psychol Med, 2007, April 4

Work stress precipitates depression and anxiety in young working, men and women, Melchior, Caspi, Milne et al, Psychol Med, 2007, April 4

Psychologiscal Distress in careres of people with mental health disorders, Shah, Wadoo &Latoo, BJMP, 2010:3(3):a327

Social support and resilience to stress, Ozbay, Johnson, Dimoulas et al, Psychiatry, 2007, May, 4(5):35-40

Feasibility of an online mindfulness program for stress management-a randomized, Controlled Trial, Morledge, Allexandre, Higashi et al, Annuals Behavioural Medicne, 2013, 46:137-148

APS : Tips on how to manage everyday stress, www.psychology.org.au/for-the-public/psychology-Topic/Stress

Pauline Brown

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pauline Brown
Psychologist

Pauline is a caring, non-judgemental and supportive psychologist. She offers counselling to adults to improve their mental health, with a particular focus on clients dealing with issues around depression, anxiety, grief and loss. Her aim is to support people in building coping strategies and finding more meaning and purpose in their lives.

Finding our presence. We are complex beings, with amazing and constantly racing minds brimming with thoughts, feelings and ideas. Learning to still and quieten that racing, enables us to access the deeper part of ourselves that might be called ‘spirit’. Eckhart Tolle refers to being in an ‘alert space’ where we can find ‘the presence behind the person’.
“Your body hears everything your mind says” Naomi Judd

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