Support for Stress

The Stress Management Society state that “Stress happens when we feel that we can’t cope with pressure and this pressure comes in many shapes and forms, and triggers physiological responses.”

Stress can affect us at any time, and one of the first steps to managing stress is to be able to recognise when we feel stressed. Some common symptoms of stress are listed below – take a moment to read through them and note how many sound familiar to you.

  • Being short-tempered/snappy
  • Not sleeping well
  • Tense muscles
  • Sore head / stiff neck
  • Struggling to concentrate on tasks
  • Loss of appetite
  • Comfort eating
  • Mind racing
  • Feeling dizzy/lightheaded

Some people may feel they work better with mild or moderate pressure on them but for most people, too much pressure can make them less productive and as a result, they may feel that normal, everyday tasks are unmanageable.

By taking action to look after ourselves and tackle stress, we can reduce the impact it has.

Spotting Stress

Now that we know some of the common symptoms of stress, let’s think about our ‘triggers’ for stress. Triggers are events or situations that lead to an increase in our stress levels, such as receiving a bill that we don’t have money to pay, or, a meeting or event we feel anxious about going to.

Action Point: On a sheet of paper with 2 columns, write down a few recent stress triggers that you are aware have affected you, and in the next column what it was about that event which worried you.

Some people find it helpful to take a little time out each day to notice if there are particular things worrying them – try breaking big problems down into smaller ‘bite-size’ chunks and work through them one at a time. Once we know something is troubling us, we are much more able to think about how we can take steps to change it. It can be helpful to ask yourself ‘is this my problem to fix?’ Often we get caught up in other people’s stress and find ourselves trying to solve problems that might not be ours to solve, especially with loved ones and family members.

Strategies for Tackling Stress

Now we know what causes us stress, and how it affects us, the next big question is what can I do about it? Thankfully there are lots of strategies for tackling stress, and sometimes we may need to try a few, or a combination of them to find the ones that work for us. Don’t be afraid to give new strategies a go – if they don’t work, that’s ok there’s plenty more!

By taking good care of ourselves in the first place and being aware of our stress levels we can prevent stress from building to unmanageable levels. Try and schedule 15-20 minutes every day when you won’t be disturbed, to reflect on how you are feeling – this time is important, so you should try and make it a priority.

Action Point: Plan some ‘me time’ into each day, use your diary – if it’s written down we are much more likely to do it.

Planning ahead can be a good strategy – if there is a particular situation, or even that you know is going to be difficult, try and prepare beforehand. Rehearse difficult conversations, and think about how you would like to handle the situation that way you can think about things that may prevent you from keeping control of the situation and help you deal with it in a way you feel happy with.

Things to do MORE of Things to do LESS of
Get active: aim for 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week. Drink less caffeine: this includes fizzy drinks like cola.
Eat Well: a balanced diet is key Stick to safe alcohol levels: 2-3 units per day for women, and 3-4 units per day for men … with two alcohol-free days in your week.
Relax: There are some helpful relaxation exercises further on in this guide. Separate work from home: ‘Work stuff’ at work – don’t bring it home.
Action Point: Why not make your ‘Self Care Plan’ for the next week. On a sheet of paper – create 3 columns – the first should be the day of the week, the 2nd should highlight your self-care activity, and the 3rd should say whether you completed your activity and if not – why not?
Day My Self Care Activity Completed (if not, what stopped you)

Problem Solving

By using some easy problem-solving strategies we can get a new perspective on old problems, and even find new ways of tackling the problem itself. The following exercise is best done at a time when you are feeling relaxed, so take some time out first to go a walk, have a warm bath, or complete the relaxation exercises below before getting started.

Action Point: Grab a notebook, and try the following exercise
  • Step 1: What is the problem? Be clear and specific about what it is that’s bothering you.
  • Step 2: Break it down into smaller chunks – it might be helpful to separate it into parts you can work on, and parts you can’t
  • Step 3: Think of possible solutions. These can be anything you think would be helpful – this is your time to get creative, don’t worry too much about whether they will work or not, it’s more important to think about different possibilities.
  • Step 4: Try out the solutions. Record what helps, and what doesn’t. If something isn’t helpful, try and think about what makes it unhelpful and whether there are ways to adapt it to make it more useful. Remember, it’s about trying – you don’t need to nail it the first time!

Relaxation Exercises

Breathing Exercise

Make sure you have privacy and are sitting somewhere comfortable. It can be helpful to wear loose-fitting clothes.

  • Place your hands gently on your belly button, breath in slowly through your nose counting to 5– notice your stomach and lungs becoming filled with air
  • Hold for 2 seconds
  • Breath out through your mouth counting to 4 – notice the air being pushed out of your body
  • Repeat 5 times

It’s important when doing this exercise to notice the feelings in your body – with practice you can do this exercise in any stressful situation whether at the bus stop or in the supermarket!

Muscle Relaxation Exercise

You can do this exercise either sitting or lying down – whichever feels more comfortable for you. Some people like to play relaxing music in the background. Start from the bottom of your body and work up to the top of your head, repeating each area three or four times before moving on to the next step.

  1. Clench your toes, and relax
  2. Point your toes towards the ceiling, and relax
  3. Clench your calves by pushing your feet into the floor, and relax
  4. Tense your thighs, and relax
  5. Clench your fists, and relax them
  6. Pull your tummy muscles in towards your back, and relax
  7. Push your shoulders back, and relax them back to their natural resting place
  8. Squeeze your eyes tightly closed, and relax

Repeat exercise 2-3 times.

Useful Resources

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