A fact that we often overlook is that not all stress is bad for us. Without stress we would not be able to perform at our optimum level. Stress can keep us on our toes, it can drive our creative instincts and after working under pressure we experience a high level of achievement and self-worth.
But can we have too little stress in our lives? Yes, if our environment and daily life becomes too predictable, we become bored and start to look for personal challenges. We would loose our sense of achievement, our sense of self-confidence, and life would become drab and aimless.
We need to realise that there is no such thing as stress “out there”. It is a personal reaction and occurs within us and people differ a lot in what they find stressful and in how they cope with stress. Very high stress causes distress.
We have looked at some of the causes of stress, but one thing we haven’t considered yet is the environmental issues that can lead to stress. Research has shown that for people generally, a number of small stressors experienced over a period of time can have a cumulative effect. This can show up both physically or emotionally. We may not be aware of the stressor at the time, but if exposed to it over some time we will begin to experience the effect of accumulated stress.
• The most important environmental factor today is the sense of economic insecurity. Rising interest rates, mortgage difficulties, astronomical increases in rent; these are ongoing, creating an ever present pressure that can lead to an overwhelming feeling of stress.
• The rate of change in society, which creates in some people feelings of uncertainty and frustration.
• The constant bombardment of news from the media, much of it disturbing and often offering no solution.
• The overwhelming amount of advertising that projects unrealistic images – this can lead to a loss of self-confidence. Such levels of unhappiness about the way we look can lead to serious psychological problems.
• Increasing uncertainty about the future, particularly when we feel that we are unable to affect the outcomes.
• An unpleasant and unhealthy physical environment.
We are exposed to these stressors every day of our lives, and our response to them is often a sense of confusion, a feeling of anger and hopelessness.
Each of us has learned from past experience what they use to reduce anxiety. Many of these solutions transfer the “fight” or “flight” reaction of the wild to the domestic situation.
For instance, your child comes home very late. You have spent the time worrying about their safety, imagining extreme situations, being sure that something dreadful has happened. So what happens when they finally arrive home? Well if you are like me, the first reaction is anger! And I get into a furious argument flinging around statements like ”you are totally inconsiderate”. The anger is an outcome of the worry and fear experienced. This is the fight syndrome.
Another way of dealing with such situations, especially if you don’t like arguing with people, is to avoid them at all costs. Here we could lie awake in bed waiting to hear them come home, we could be quietly furious but arguing makes us feel sick, so we just lie there seething. Next morning we don’t mention anything about last night, and in fact we could even arrange our morning to avoid the person entirely. This is the flight syndrome.
These types of responses may help to reduce unpleasantly high levels of anxiety. If so they are all the more likely to be used again in a similar situation. But they have no real effect on our reaction to long term stress and we can get ourselves into “the same old hassles” instead of taking more constructive action.
We need to become aware that often our instinctive reactions to stress may have become habits and are not only ineffective but are irrational. If we don’t do this, our reaction itself can be a source of stress. Ineffective habits can be changed. So if you recognise yourself in some of the above examples you may need to learn new ways of coping with environmental stress situations. Working from a belief that all behaviour is learned and it can be unlearned, we can begin to replace our instinctive responses with more appropriate behaviour.
It is said it only takes 21 days to create a new habit – not sure about that? Then try this little exercise now; we call it “Thumbs Up!”
Take your hand off the mouse, and clasp your hands together. Now look down and see which thumb is on the top.
If you have your left thumb on top of the right, unclasp your thumbs and fingers and interlace them the opposite way.
You should now have your right thumb on top and all the fingers should have changed as well.
If you had the right thumb on top, then reverse them as above
Does that feel comfortable for you? Why do you think that is? What if you were to continue to clasp your hands this way all the time, would that become the habit? And if that were to become the habit, how would the other way feel to you?
Now try the same exercise folding your arms. Remember, it is said it only takes 21 days to change a habit.
So why not learn more life changing habits to enbable you to cope with stress at the Breakfast seminar with Trischel on the 15th May 2008.