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What is stress?

 

Stress can make you feel as if you cannot cope and that everything is overwhelming you. Signs can vary from person to person and they are often easier to recognise in someone else.

You may cry a lot, feel irritable, become irrationally angry, feel tired all the time, you may be depressed, or have stomach problems, or have backache or headaches. Stress can also be responsible, in the long term, for serious illnesses such as high blood pressure, strokes, nervous breakdown and heart disease. And there are plenty of ailments that can be stress related such as ulcers, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, skin rashes and frequent colds.

While stressful events are beyond our control, much of the stress we put on ourselves is well within our control. There are plenty of behaviour patterns that can make a bad situation considerably worse and the key is to recognise ones familiar to you. Once you've identified what's exacerbating the stress in your life, you're in a position to do something about it. So, discover what's upping your stress levels by answering the following questions.

  1. Do you say yes, when you mean no?
  2. Do you feel guilty if you take time off to relax?
  3. Do you find it hard to communicate how you feel and to ask for help?
  4. Do you have fixed ideas about how you and other people should behave, and often get upset when these standards aren't met?
  5. Do you insist on doing everything to very high standards, even when you don't have the time or energy?
  6. Do you dwell on upsets and difficult situations, without moving on?
  7. Do you put off doing things so that they pile up and become unmanageable?
  8. Do you feel as if you never have any time and that you have more work than you can possibly handle?
  9. Is someone bullying you and making your life miserable and stressful?

If you answered yes to 1 your stress is made worse by...

Saying no and taking on too much - many people find it hard to say no, yet may feel resentful having too much to do. Say no politely and feel good!

If you answered yes to 2 your stress is made worse by...

Guilt - how often do you do something you don't want to? If you look after young children or an elderly relative you'll have your work cut out, but if your family is able bodied they can do plenty for themselves! Guilt may be tied up with wanting to be needed so the pressure is self-imposed.

If you answered yes to 3 your stress is made worse by...

Communication, or lack of it - this really is the key to better relationships, but people don't say what they think for fear of upsetting someone. If you need help but feel that your needs are being ignored, perhaps you're not putting it clearly enough. Just saying how you feel without blaming others can make all the difference.

If you answered yes to 4 your stress is made worse by...

Making judgements - everyone carries a rule book in their heads about what they should and shouldn't do, often based on what others (or parents) have imposed, or related to doctrine, culture or religion. If it doesn't serve you well when times are tough, it can be helpful to let it go.

If you answered yes to 5 your stress is made worse by being...

A perfectionist - having to do everything to your own high standards can mean working long hours, forever cleaning the house, or redoing things to be sure of getting them right. It might be worth asking the question: 'Do I really need to do this?'

If you answered yes to 6 your stress is made worse by...

Not letting go - we perpetuate arguments and disagreements because we harbour hurt feelings. If you are still upset about something that happened weeks or even years ago, maybe it's time to think about forgiving and forgetting, so that you can put it behind you - and be happier.

If you answered yes to 7 your stress is made worse by...

Procrastinating - whether it is in the workplace or at home it is human nature to put off things you don't like doing. Some people thrive on working to deadlines but others find it stresses them out.

If you answered yes to 8 your stress is made worse by being...

A workaholic - working long hours is often part of the culture of the organisation you work for, but sometimes it is worth asking yourself a few questions. Who actually makes you work longer hours and why do you do it? Reasons may include fear of failure, a need for perfection, or an obsession with proving something to yourself - or others.

If you answered yes to 9 your stress is made worse by...

Not standing up for yourself - whether it's at home or in the workplace no-one should put up with being bullied. Bullying doesn't always mean being beaten up in the playground. Bosses, partners, children and parents can do it, and it can make your life much more stressful. It takes courage, but most bullies back down when opposed.

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Be good to yourself

In the long term there is much that you can do to improve your own lot, so that when you encounter serious stress, such as illness, or the death of someone close, you have a better philosophy on life. Eating healthily and drinking plenty of water may have become a way of life, but many of us turn to alcohol and poor eating habits when we are faced with stress. If you continue to eat well and don't rely on booze or cigarettes in stressful times, you can limit the damage of stress.

Exercise of any kind is good for you and a short walk is a helpful way to unwind and stay fit. If you are near a park, or the countryside, spending some time close to nature is good for the soul and incredibly relaxing. Yoga and t'ai chi offer more than just exercise as they help to calm the mind as well. A lot of us look after everyone else but neglect ourselves. Treat yourself occasionally, take regular breaks or holidays, meet up with friends, enjoy your children, indulge in hobbies and communicate honestly with those close to you, including yourself!

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