Stress ManagaementStress is ubiquitous. There is no escaping it, and it is a regular feature of everyone’s life to a greater or lesser degree at different times. Our bodies and minds are adapted to deal with intermittent bursts of stress, and it would be unnatural not to experience any stress at all. Stress becomes a problem either when it is chronic, that is ever present and relentless, or when our stress reactions are excessive, that is when we become overly reactive in response to the challenges and difficulties in our life.
Chronic stress and problems with stress management play an important role in both physical and mental health. There is a large body of evidence that chronic stress is related to a range of physical health conditions. Similarly, aside from taking a toll psychologically on its own, stress can act as a catalyst for other psychological problems. For instance, someone who is vulnerable to depression is more likely to become depressed under conditions of chronic stress. Physical and psychological problems can also become compounded when people use counterproductive strategies for dealing with stress, such as alcohol or other drugs, over-spending, over-working, over-eating, or withdrawal from family and friends.
Learning to manage stress in healthy ways is a fundamental psychological skill with enormous potential benefits, physically, psychologically and in terms of the quality and effectiveness of your life. The key to productive stress management is to know what drives your particular experience of stress. Stress has different causes for different people, and any effective efforts at stress reduction need to address the cause. There are a number of different levels on which stress management can focus. These include:
Environment - some sources of stress can be addressed by learning to structure our environment more effectively. This can involve elements such as time management, goal-setting, prioritizing, delegating, etc. It is normal and human to move through much of life acting in habitual ways that may or may not be particularly effective for a given situation. Over time we develop ‘blind spots’ to areas where we could be making small but significant changes that can have a very large impact on our stress.
Beliefs, interpretations and self talk - in many instances stress is magnified and / or prolonged by what goes on in our heads. We may place unrealistic expectations on ourselves, worry unnecessarily about potential problems, doubt ourselves, anticipate disaster, expect the worst, rehash previous failures and so-on. Learning to alter our self-talk, our underlying beliefs, and our mental relationship to our life can make a huge difference to how we feel.
Self esteem and life patterns - often the self-talk that drives our stress ultimately stems from underlying beliefs about ourselves, other people or the world, and related habitual patterns of engaging with life. Sometimes these underlying beliefs and life patterns have been operating for quite some time, perhaps originating in childhood, and require work in order to change our self-talk and interpretations.
Coping and calming techniques - often people rely on counterproductive stress management strategies, such as drinking alcohol, because they haven’t developed a reprtoire of effective alternatives. There are a range of effective strategies that you can learn to reduce and manage your stress. Examples include relaxation, breathing techniques, visualization, physical exercise, meditation, mindfulness, attention training, creative or intellectual pursuits, stimulating the five senses, and a range of other self-soothing strategies.
Social - of all the areas of life best able to buffer stress, our social lives have the greatest potential. However, it can be difficult and complex cultivating healthy relationships, and relationships can equally be the greatest source of stress. Addressing relationship problems and cultivating mutually supportive relationships can be a profoundly sustaining area of stress management.
Building resilience - resilience is largely about dealing effectively with obstacles and set-backs. As any human endeavour is beset with obstacles large and small, everyone needs their own personal repertoire of strategies for responding to obstacles.
Problem solving - sometimes people inadvertently use ineffective strategies for dealing with problems. As a result key problems don’t get resolved, becoming chronic or recurrent, and/or many small problems pile up to the point that they become overwhelming.
Learning what drives your problems with stress and addressing the factors that are significant for you is at the heart of effective stress management. All of our psychologists have extensive experience working with stress and stress management in an individualised way. If you would like help better understanding and managing your stress Dr Lissa Johnson & Associates would be happy to hear from you. If your stress plays a role in a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety, you may be eligible for Medicare rebates of $122 per session for up to 10 sessions per calendar year.