What does the word stress mean to you? Sitting in a traffic jam when you have a meeting to go to? Having more work than you can reasonably cope with? Family arguments? Illness? Stress comes in many guises. Some stress is needed – call it motivation if you like – or we wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning! When we feel the effects, it is usually due to repeated or continual stress. We become tetchy – even volatile; our concentration diminishes; our judgement becomes impaired; sleep is difficult or unrefreshing; skin problems emerge or our digestion suffers. I could fill this blog with the effects of stress. We don’t normally suffer from all the effects but many of them will come and go as stress increases.
We need to understand why this happens to us before we can control its effects. All animals experience this, because it serve a purpose. It is all due to the need to survive. You will have heard of the “fight or flight” reaction. For example, if you have a close encounter with a snake, given the right circumstances the snake will “leg it”, but if it is cornered it will strike. Having too much work to do doesn’t, superficially, appear the same thing but as far as the body is concerned, the same chemical reactions are started up. The effects of this are inconsequential when it is an occasional occurrence. It’s normal and our bodies cope well. We run into problems when the effects are repeated or constant.
Our stress hormones set up numerous responses to help us with the fight or flight decision; we breathe more rapidly; our blood sugar rises; blood pressure increases; the nerves to bowel/bladder/stomach become less sensitive (we do not need to be rushing to the loo before we run!); hearts beat faster; tiredness disappears – again I could fill the blog with these effects. Over time these change to more serious problems – blood pressure and pulse rate rarely return to normal, we have constipation or diarrhoea or suffer indigestion and sleep is elusive. This is an over-simplification of what happens but hopefully, you get the point. The fact is, it’s a whole body experience and can have lasting effects on health. The solution is easier said than done. RELAX! I know this is not very helpful and therefore my next blog will be about how you can avoid stress, or at least control it.
Chronic stress can be felt as being out of control. The condition which gets us up in the morning we call motivation – hunger, needing the loo, getting the kids up, going to work etc. These are all fine most of the time but sometimes the pressure of all this “motivation” starts to affect our ability to function normally (see previous blog).
There are many coping strategies and you already know most of them. Why then do we find them so difficult to implement? It’s mostly to do with our fears: We don’t want to appear weak/incapable/untrustworthy/slacking/uncompromising and neither do we want to be unpopular. We have to learn to say “NO” as well as time management/prioritising and delegation – both at work and at home.
For example: I don’t “do ironing”. A very good friend of mine (in her 60s) told me that she doesn’t “do ironing” and I didn’t believe her – she always looks so lovely. She puts everything in the tumble drier for ten minutes then gets it out, shakes it and it continues drying on the line or radiators. So now I do this – if it is not good enough for those in the house – they know where the iron is (but I don’t!). This is a great time saver and there are many others, too many to list here. A brainstorming session at home or at work will undoubtedly come up with lots of ideas; just don’t be afraid to do things differently. If the outcome is the same, does it matter how it gets done?
Prioritising work is also important. Once you have made a list, stick to it. If you have prioritised at work, bash out some short emails to those at the bottom saying that you have the work in hand and you will get the work done by ****(over-estimate). Then, make a note and get it done a week before that time. They will be delighted and you will be less stressed and get brownie points too! At home, get the teenagers cooking the dinner – they get to choose the menu. (You can have pizza once in a while!) When someone offers (or even ask them) to help with collecting kids from school etc. SAY THANK YOU – you can reciprocate when you have less on.
Sleep can be the first thing to suffer when you’re stressed. You fall into bed, completely shattered, and are still awake two hours later working out how to cope with tomorrow. Or, you go straight to sleep and wake up at 2am! Get a routine. We get our children focussed on the bedtime routine because we know they need it. But so do WE! Having a little relaxation time during the day can pay dividends at bed time. Some people find that yoga or uplifting music can be helpful.
Even if it is just a half hour routine, it can make all the difference. A warm bath (with essential oils if you like), a warm milky drink, a chapter of a trashy novel and into bed – with ear plugs if necessary. Make sure you are warm enough – a hot water bottle can be a real comfort. I think it is good practice in a partnership to sleep in separate rooms if one partner is having trouble sleeping. Actually, I believe it can be a relationship saver for some.
Take control now before it gets out of hand!