Feeling Stressed or Overwhelmed?

The word “stress” is such a common concept these days that we fail to realise what it is doing to us, how it affects us and how we react when we are going through stressful situations.  The effects aren’t just emotional, but it also affects our physical wellbeing as well as the way we behave.  Stress mustn’t be seen as just being negative, in fact, it keeps us alert and productive.  It is that natural reaction that tells us when to run, that “fight or flight” response that increases our awareness.

You might have heard the statement “stress is the silent killer”, in fact, it is not a lie.  Some of you might have noticed that when you are stressed, your body gives you indications that things aren’t right.  You might feel continuously tired, or you have difficulty sleeping.  You might experience stomach aches or muscle pains and tension.  What about headaches, migraines, hair loss or wait gain?  In other cases, stress could cause indigestion or nausea and all these physical things make our ability to deal with a stressful situation more difficult.  Yes, even cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure, which are life threatening, are consequences of stress.

On top of that, stress have emotional consequences.  Our motivation level drop and the level of our irritability and anger increase.  Our ability to focus declines and most often we experience a decrease in sex drive.  Unfortunately, depression and anxiety also come into play to cause further havoc, which can lead to suicide and other mental health problems.

But what about how we behave in these stressful times?  Social withdrawal is often the case, and, in a way, self-harm makes an appearance through the use of drugs or alcohol and maybe a little bit less damaging, nail biting and teeth grinding.

At this point, you might be saying, yes, I know what the negatives are, but how do I handle it and how do I become stress-free?  Before I get to some tips on how to manage stress, I would like to put your attention on the benefits of stress management as well as the barriers that could prevent you from managing your stress effectively.

Benefits of Managing Stress:

You can have important health benefits by learning how to manage and reduce your stress levels.  You can improve your immune system functions, thereby preventing illnesses and increasing your energy level.  You can improve your quality of sleep which will allow you to be more focused and positive and in general you will be taking conscious steps to improving your overall quality of life.

Barriers to Managing Stress:

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, stress seems so overstated these days and we feel that we can just “deal with it” or say, “I thrive on stress and I have don’t the time or need for counselling”.  When we do not effectively deal and manage our stresses, it can lead to burnout and other life altering consequences.  Other barriers to effectively managing stress are:

  • Financial – thinking that dealing with your stress will be too expensive
  • Time – thinking that you will be okay after meeting all the deadlines that was set for you
  • Pride – thinking that only people who can’t cope with reality are stressed
  • Stalling – thinking that you are so stressed that you do not know where to start and thinking that it will not make a difference by learning how to manage stress effectively
  • Not seeing stress as important enough to be addressed

Now that I have dealt with the consequences, benefits and barriers to managing stress, let’s get to the good part and possibly the part that you were looking forward to – the “how to” part.  Yet, before we get to that, I am going to ask you to take a critical look at yourself.  I want you to identify your stress sources, are they your family, work or any other occurrences or challenges in your life?  Now, can you identify your stress symptoms?  Are they any of the symptoms mentioned above or do you have others?  Then think of the current stress management strategies that you currently implement, are they healthy or unhealthy and I want you to be specifically mindful of the unhealthy strategies that you might be implementing currently as those are the strategies that we wish to change.

Finally, we get to the stress management techniques, basically the “how to” part.  Although these are just a few tips that I am sharing with you, it is important for you to remember that counselling is very important when you are feeling overwhelmed and need additional strategies on how to cope and how to reduce your stress levels.

Stress Management Techniques:

  • Remember that stress isn’t always a bad thing.
  • Prioritize your responsibilities. Write down what you have on your “to do” list and prioritise it according to importance and what your responsibilities are with each task.  Remember that having to many items on your “to do” list can be stressful, even if they aren’t very big tasks or responsibilities.  Focus on what is important and let the other stuff go and remember to accept the things that you cannot control.
  • Remember to focus on keeping a healthy sleeping schedule, eating well and exercising. Making time for yourself is important, this is the time where you can just relax and have fun, even though it might only be 5 to 10 minutes a day.  While I am at it, switching off all technology in this time will help you to slow down and you might notice that all those urgent things become less important or less crisis-like.
  • Sometimes, when we are in a situation, we tend to be overwhelmed by our problems and they feel bigger than what they really are. Take a step back, write about your problems, get perspective, get some friends to talk to about certain stressors and decide whether these stressors will still matter in a week or months or even a years’ time.
  • Calm your breathing down.  Take a long breath in and when exhaling, exhale the stress out of your body by relaxing your body muscles at the same time, one breath at a time.
  • Listen to some good music and appreciate the serenity and feel-good sensations it creates in you.
  • Start a hobby or resurrect that forgotten hobby that’s been gathering dust in the back of the cupboard for so long. Get creative and feel proud of your determination, your problem-solving skills, your commitment and your final product.  Effectively, you will be giving yourself credit for achieving a short-term goal and then you can properly reward yourself on your achievement.
  • Build on your skills and use them effectively. Think of skills that you would like to approve on.  It might be skills like critical thinking, time management, problem solving or even budgeting skills.  All these additional skills will be complementary to you as a person and will gives you more skills to managing stress.
  • It’s okay for things not to always be perfect. A little bit of skewness in our world is also fine and things don’t always have to be perfect.  Remember to also laugh a bit and look for some humour in your life.  Sometimes it is also necessary to laugh at ourselves in a positive way if we did something silly.
  • It is important to get organised. When we know what we want and where it is, it is easier to find it without the stress and effort of searching for it.  Organise your diary, your closet, your emails, basically anything small at the beginning to give you focus and a bit more control.
  • Don’t rely on compulsive behaviour, drugs or alcohol to get you through stressful situations. These can have numerous negative emotional, behavioural as well as physical consequences to you and those around you.
  • Setting healthy boundaries by setting internal rules for yourself will outline your behaviour of what you will and will not accept. Here you also need to set appropriate limits and learn how to say no to requests that would create excessive stress.  Learning the distinction between being assertive and being aggressive is important as being assertive has so much more benefits than being aggressive.
  • Keep a positive attitude and get out of your own head. Sometimes it’s not even worth competing and dealing with your racing thoughts.  Go ahead and distract yourself.  Watch a movie, read a good book, go for a walk or go play with your pets, keep it positive and it will help you to take your mind off things.
  • Lastly, notice and give yourself credit on your own strengths and abilities. You have probably overcome so much already in your life and when we are trapped in stressful situations, we tend to forget our own accomplishments, abilities and strengths.  Give yourself credit, you earned it.

By mentioning all these techniques and tips above, I still want to make it clear that feeling overwhelmed and stressed is not a light subject to discuss and to deal with and should you feel that you are not coping, to please reach out and speak to somebody to give you guidance and support where necessary and where possible.

Thank you very much for reading my blog.  I truly hope that it helped somebody, somewhere.  Please send any feedback or comments to info@gemtherapy.co.za and remember to have a look out for a new blog every week.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *