STRESS. That one word that kind of means a lot of things, and seems to track us down wherever we go to remind us how much we have to do or how difficult things can be. Stress pops up whenever we perceive the following to be true:
- The pressures that we are facing exceed the perceived resources we have to cope at this time.
Pressures include: work, family, financial etc.
Resources include: time, skills, emotional etc.
Therefore, if we have so many tasks at work and not enough time, we are likely to feel stressed. Similarly, if we relationship problems with our partners and don’t feel we have the emotional resources to cope with these issues, we are likely to feel stressed. If someone came and asked me to give a presentation on the theory of relativity, I would feel stressed because I don’t perceive that I have the skills (i.e., knowledge) to cope with this task.
But enough about what stress is and when we feel it because one thing I have learnt as a psychologist is that it is a rare case that someone has not heard of stress and/or cannot identify examples of situations where they have felt stressed.
My four top tips to combat (present and future) stress:
- Exercise – I’m sure you read this everywhere, and I think some of us start to skim by it with our eyes looking for the ‘meatier’ tips, or tips you haven’t considered before. This time, I challenge you to add some exercise into your week. I recommend (at least) One hour, three times a week – your choice of exercise. I previously worked at a gym and naturally became interested in fitness and health; I wish I could have measured my stress before and after adding regular exercise into my life. In the absence of these facts and figures, you’ll just have to believe me when I say I am a completely different person in the sense that it takes a lot more to get me stressed out these days. If one hour is too long, break it into half an hour six days a week. Consider some of these suggestions:
- Rock climbing
- Fitness class
- Skipping rope
- Sand dunes
- Stair climbs
- Social interactions – as long as the person you spend time with is not the one stressing you out, social interactions are fantastic for stress reduction. Not only is catching up with friends a great distraction, it also helps us to vent and problem solve! Having a good social network also increases resilience to future stressors. If you are reading this and are thinking that you don’t have a reliable social network to turn to, it’s worth thinking about spending some time and energy to improve that network. Perhaps attend Friday drinks with your co-workers, invite a neighbour over for lunch, or call a friend you haven’t seen in a while. It’s not about the number of friends you have, it’s about the perceived quality and reliability of these friendships.
- Find a hobby – While many people don’t have an identifiable hobby, most people have an idea about the type of thing they would spend time on if they were given a whole week off work. Maybe it’s gardening, golf, travel, photography, reading, listening to music, making candles, painting, writing, dirt biking, marathon running, snorkelling, fishing… Whatever it is, the reason you pick to spend your time on that activity is most likely because you enjoy it! Having some activities that add meaning to your life or that you are passionate about helps us to manage the less enjoyable tasks, or tasks that stress us out.
- Work out how to relax – It is really worthwhile having a think about the types of activities that help you to relax. While it might be the same activity as your hobby, sometimes this is not the case. While it is important to have fun and enjoyable ways to spend our energy, we also need ways to recuperate that energy. You can try yoga, meditation, spending time in nature, massages/day spas, mindfulness, spending a slow morning at home with a crossword etc. For people who find they having difficulty relaxing, I recommend breathing retraining or Progressive Muscle Relaxation – both are techniques I show my clients on a regular basis and are very useful (this may require a third party to ensure you learn technique correctly).
If you happen to be reading this and thinking that you don’t have time for exercise, social events, hobbies or relaxation then I really suggest that you look into changing your schedule for your own health and wellbeing. I realise that in the real world there are single parents working multiple jobs and students with heavy workloads that make it difficult to do much other than work, eat and sleep. However, it is often these people who need stress release the most! If you honestly have not one spare moment in your schedule, then you may have to multitask (e.g., read a book on the train, call a friend on your lunchbreak, do some meditating in the waiting room at the doctor’s surgery). For the vast majority of us, it’s more an issue of planning and organising our time, rather than simply not having enough of it.
In addition we know there are positive health (and mental health) outcomes and importantly, assertive communication is the type of communication that most frequently leads to you getting what you want. So get to it!
About the Author: Rachel Collins is a Registered Psychologist working with children, adolescents, adults and families with a range of psychological disorders and difficulties at Life Resolutions Miranda. To get in touch with Rachel or to make an appointment please call 1300 668 256 or visit http://www.liferesolutionsmiranda.com.au