Stress is unfortunately an unavoidable fact of modern life. Whether through pressures at work, relationships at home or just the constant ‘noise’ of today’s 24-hour news culture, we all experience stress to some degree in our day-to-day lives.
There are a multitude of definitions of stress, but I like to refer to this one:
‘Stress occurs when pressure exceeds your perceived ability to cope’ *
I love this description; to my mind, given we can influence our own perceptions of situations, this definition offers us the ability to have an element of control over how stress impacts us. (I’ll talk more about this in a different post!)
Sustained stress response
When someone perceives a threat, whether physically or psychologically, and believes they are unable to cope with the situation at hand, their sympathetic nervous system is activated. This forms part of the ‘fight or flight’ stress response, resulting in a number of hormonal and physiological responses. If the situation is not seen to be addressed and dealt with, the ‘stress response’ stays active.
The ‘fight or flight’ response is designed to prepare us physically, behaviourally and psychologically to respond to a present danger, with our system returning to equilibrium once the threat has passed. However, in modern life, the situations genuinely requiring either fight or flight are mercifully rare.
What we instead face is ongoing stressors. It might be a challenging life event, external pressures from other people or just self-imposed demands on our own time, but once our stress response is activated, in many cases it remains in place until the pressure is reduced or our perception of our ability to cope changes.
Signs of stress
Everyone experiences stress differently – no two people will have exactly the same coping thresholds – but there are certain key behavioural, psychological and physiological symptoms to watch out for with extended exposure to stress.
Behavioural symptoms can include:
- Difficulty sleeping or disrupted sleep
- Altered appetites and eating habits
- Increase in smoking, alcohol or caffeine consumption
- Avoiding social connection with friends and family
- Sexual difficulty
- Irritability or hostility
- Compulsive or impulsive behaviour
- Increased clumsiness
Physiological symptoms you might notice:
- Increased tiredness
- Tension headaches
- Frequent colds or illnesses
- Skin rashes
- Rapid weight gain or loss
- Feeling faint
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Psychological signs can include:
- Becoming more indecisive
- Difficulty concentrating
- Impeded memory
- Feelings of low self-esteem
- Mood swings
- Feeling out of control
- Intrusive thoughts
- Suicidal ideas
If you are noticing any of these symptoms showing up more often than not, or they seem to have become a constant companion, now is the time to take action. I am a firm believer in the idea that prevention is better than cure and it is far easier to work on your resilience and the way you manage the impact stress has on you than recover from a serious stress-related event. Working your way back to full health from a heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes or cancer, or coping with anxiety, depression, nervous breakdowns and burnout is no mean feat.
Whatever your individual situation might be, I can provide the support and coaching you need to reframe your thinking, manage your emotions and learn how to become more resilient to stress. My goal is that you become equipped as your own coach, so you can cope with whatever life throws at you.
Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on 07837993241 and let’s get the conversation started.
* This definition is taken from Palmer, S. & Cooper, C. (2013). How to deal with stress: creating success.