Regardless of your age, gender, job or socio-economic status, we all experience stress. Loganholme Psychologist, Harry Hsieh, provides an overview of both good and bad stress – and shares some of the secrets of stress management.
A major assignment is due next week; there is a presentation coming up in two weeks; the family is moving house in a month’s time; you are taking on a new job.
There are numerous events in our lives that create stress. In our studies, relationships, work, family and other areas of our lives, challenges arise that require us to act, think, or make adjustments to the stressors. Stress arises from both positive and negative situations. Planning a wedding can create more stress than having to give a presentation. Stress can also influence us long after the source of stress is gone. When it all gets too much, we might feel irritable, lose concentration, have butterflies in the stomach, forget things, or feel hopeless or depressed.
Is Stress all Bad?
It is true that too much stress is harmful. Apart from all the symptoms, research showed chronic stress lowers immune functions and makes people more susceptible to illnesses. However, we also “rust out” when we have absolutely no stress. A certain level of positive stress is required for us to have a sense of direction and the drive to achieve goals in our lives. In other words, too much stress is bad; but so is too little stress. The key is to find optimal levels of stress for you.
Optimal Levels of Stress
Unfortunately there is no universal optimal level of stress for everyone. Nor do we have the same levels of stress from the same event. Having to write a 3000-word essay has different meanings for many of us. At the appropriate level of stress and demands, you will find you can respond to the tasks, cope well, and have positive emotions and confidence about life while not feeling too bored or too overwhelmed.
When am I too Stressed?
As a general guide, when there is too much stress, we have cognitive, emotional, physical and behavioural responses.
- We might lose the ability to concentrate, forget things, or have “mind blanks” (cognitive).
- Some of us start to feel irritable, hopeless, nervous, or depressed (emotional).
- Sweating, having a dry mouth, constipation or diarrhoea (physical) could result from stress.
- Chronic stress may increase impulsivity, smoking or drinking, or make us stutter or make excuses about our situation (behavioural).
Again, signs and symptoms of stress are different for everyone. It is important to be aware of your own signs and symptoms of stress before trying to manage stress. There is a useful list of signs and symptoms of stress from the American Institute of Stress: http://stress.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/50-Common-Signs-and-Symptoms-of-Stress.pdf
Stress Management Tips
- Social support – Having social support is vital in managing stress. Regardless of the form and shape of support, we benefit from social support physically and psychologically. Some of us favour the support of social groups, sports teams or church groups. Others like to have someone to talk to or receive advice from during times of stress.
- Let it out – Engaging in physical activities helps relieve some symptoms of stress. Going for a run, performing martial arts, playing sports, or going to the gym are examples of outlets for frustration caused by stress. As long as the activities are not harmful to you or others around you, it is best to choose activities you favour the most.
- Regain control – When we are too stressed, things may feel all over the place and we don’t know where to start. It is important to stop and find ways to regain control. It is useful to review the situation, write down tasks to do and look at what is under your control. If you can change the source of stress, changing the stressor (such as leaving a highly stressful job) may help provide relief. When the stressors are unavoidable, you need to find other ways of coping. Taking necessary breaks, stretching and relaxation exercises may help as short-term relief. A useful way to provide a sense of control is to list all tasks necessary according to their importance and urgency. This allows tasks to be visible and to be prioritised in order. They can then be broken down into daily tasks in your diary. When a chunk of tasks is broken down to small, manageable pieces, they become far less daunting.
Author: Harry Hsieh, B Psych Sci (Hons), M App Psych (Couns), MAPS.
Born and raised in Taiwan, Loganholme Psychologist Harry Hsieh has lived in Australia for over ten years. He has an eclectic approach to psychotherapy, predominantly based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) approaches, and has a special interest is assisting individuals coping with long-term health conditions.
To make an appointment with Loganholme Psychologist Harry Hsieh, please call (07) 3067 9129 or you can book online today.
- Oltmanns, T. F., & Emery, R.E. (2010). Abnormal Psychology (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
- Payumo-Taylor, A. (2007). Notes for a presentation on Relaxation and Stress Management.
- The American Institute of Stress. Fifty common signs and symptoms of stress. Retrieved from http://stress.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/50-Common-Signs-and-Symptoms-of-Stress.pdf, April 2015.