You can do something about the way you feel when stressed even though this is not dealing with the underlying problems. You have already come across some means of helping but there are more techniques that you can use. You will be aware of most of these already but may not have understood how helpful they can be.
Just as you have looked at how stress affects you emotionally, physically, behaviourally, intellectually and spiritually, so you need to revisit these aspects of your being and consider what you can do to help the symptoms you experience. If you can ease these symptoms so they are less troublesome you will experience a degree of freedom that releases you to be better able to tackle the bigger problems that have caused your stress in the first place.
This page provides an overview and sometimes links to other relevant pages.
Acknowledge your feelings – do not suppress them.
You are in a situation that makes you uncomfortable so you may feel angry, anxious or fearful. You may be questioning yourself,
‘How did I get into this mess?
Why am I the one expected to sort out this situation?
How can I possibly cope?’
yet because it is embarrassing, you are not living up to people’s expectations or you do not like giving in, you suppress your feelings and struggle on. You may well survive and even overcome the difficulties but it will take its toll. You will be unhappy, may be irritable at home, have disturbed sleep and it can create a cloud of doubt over your self-confidence to manage in the future.
The first step therefore is to acknowledge how you feel, to yourself even if to no one else. Even say it out loud,
‘Yes, I am angry.’
‘Yes, I am frightened.’
This is an essential step before you can deal with how you feel.
Express your feelings – speak about how you feel.
This second point leads on from the first – let people know how you feel. Particularly, this needs to be to the people who are involved in your situation.
If all you do is tell family and friends who have nothing to do with the stressful situation, nothing will change and those you confide in may be drawn into your troubles or will find reasons to avoid you (sorry, but it does happen!).
You will need to be careful, though, how you express your feelings, as you will not want this to rebound and worsen your situation.
Release emotions – in a safe way!
Swearing, crying, stamping your feet, smashing plates all can be helpful. You may do this in private but it can be effective if done in public as you will be noticed.
‘Wow, I had not realised you were under so much pressure. What can I do to help?’
is an encouraging response. That cannot be depended on however, as sometimes the response will be a negative and uncaring remark such as,
‘Oh no! Not her again, making a fuss about nothing.’
Consider being creative when expressing your emotions.
This has to be up to you – otherwise it is not creative, no one can tell you what to do. Here is an example.
Colin, a doctor, once saved a teenager’s life from cancer. His family were deeply grateful and gave him a tree in appreciation. Years later, however, the patient, now a young man, sued him because of long term adverse effects of the treatment he had been given. He and his parents had been warned about this and, at the time, all had recognised that these effects were the inevitable cost of saving his life. Dr Colin was upset. He knew he would be exonerated but at the cost of a long drawn out and expensive legal procedure and possibly some unpleasant adverse publicity. When he reached home that evening he went out into his back garden to the tree they had given him and peed over it! Pointless, but deeply satisfying, he reported gleefully to his friends.
Do you see the point? Expressing emotion will not change the underlying situation but it can ease the emotional burden you carry.
Use relaxation techniques and breathing exercises.
This is not just for when you feel anxious. Fear, anger, depression – all these negative emotions will also be helped by relaxation techniques.
If angry, do some vigorous exercise, shout (in a safe situation), break plates, talk to yourself.
I have mentioned anger already but it warrants a special mention as it can build up and then express itself in unexpected violence that can shock you personally as well as those who observe it. Media stories of road rage, handbag battering and hair pulling at the school gate and queue jumping rows are examples of situations were anger has resulted in serious criminal offences or community disruption. Such situations can develop unexpectedly even to those who are the perpetrators. If you think you may be susceptible to overwhelming anger and are at risk of harming yourself or others do get professional help NOW. Please, do not wait. Swallow your pride and book to see your doctor. While you are waiting, keep reading. You can still do something to help yourself.
If feeling down – go to bed.
It is amazing how much benefit a good night’s sleep provides. At the end of a busy day it is all too easy to brood about problems and become miserable. Make yourself do something practical and helpful then go to bed and sleep. You may see things in a quite different light in the morning. And check Techniques for Managing Stress for ideas about problem solving and Insomnia for sleep problems.
Try to be positive.
If you realise you are giving all your attention to negatives such as failures and disappointments make a list of positives such as successes, pleasures and happy times. See Be positive in Techniques for Managing Stress.
Support from family and friends is important.
You may not want to bother others, you may feel they will not understand or perhaps they are the cause of your stress yet now is the time, more than any other, when you need people you can rely on. It may be just to relax and enjoy yourselves together but even better if you can share your troubles with a sympathetic listener.
Rest and sleep are vital.
Stress wears you out physically as well as emotionally so you need time to rest and recuperate. Your energy levels, insight and drive will be reinvigorated. There will be times when the nature of your stressful circumstances will require you to keep going – family illness or an essay or work deadline, for example – but try to avoid such situations, reduce other potential stresses and when the pressure is off take time to rest and sleep.
Here, I mean physical relaxation. Stress causes tightness in muscles, that leads to tension headaches, irritable bowel syndrome (colic, nausea and diarrhoea) and more. You need time out, away from your stresses, doing something different. Relaxation does not mean slumping in front of the TV with a beer or glass of wine; well, not as the only form of relaxation! Exercise, especially if you have a sedentary job, is a vital way to relax and coincidentally, it does your heart and general physical well-being a whole lot of good. However, if you have a hard physical job perhaps you will be better doing gentle repetitive movements such as walking, swimming or line dancing that uses different sets of muscles.
Adopt a healthy diet.
Eating cakes, nibbling biscuits or any food for that matter, is a ‘comforter’ you may indulge in when stressed. An occasional blip will not do any harm but if it becomes a habit you can overeat and create more problems related to obesity and problems for your heart and circulation.
Whatever you do, do more – unless you are already a professional sports person – but increase your level of exercise gently and keep it enjoyable. It is not a punishment duty.
If your heart is racing do breathing exercises, sit down, relax, cool down. If this is a recurring problem or starts unexpectedly get some medical advice.
Muscle tension, headaches and other pains.
For muscle tension and pains do relaxation techniques and gentle exercises. Take paracetamol or other simple analgesic.
Weeping – let it flow!
A good cry is healing. Men, especially, can get embarrassed about crying but crying relieves tension and it is almost impossible to stop once started, so let it flow! You can feel weak and drained and will need a cup of tea after a good crying bout but your emotional state will be much improved. If crying is a feature of your stress you may like to see the comments at the end of The Stages of Grief where there is a section about tears in the Afterthought.
Talking too much or hesitant speech can be embarrassing.
When you have the opportunity to prepare, write down what you need to say and stick to your script.
If your smoking has increased this is not the time to stop although that has to be the ultimate goal. Keep a record and set limits to how much you smoke. See Strategies That Do Not Work.
Alcohol may numb emotional pain but it limits the ability to make controlled responses and may add to the stress problems. Again see Strategies That Do Not Work.
Face problem, examine and analyse it.
Sometimes the emotional reaction to stress takes over but discipline yourself to sit down, think logically through the problems, even make notes. See Nail it and Prioritise in Techniques for Managing Stress for more advice.
Review the goals you have set yourself in life.
Recognise when the stresses you are under are controlling your life. Take time out to reflect on what you want to achieve in life, or in a particular phase, and see how your stress fits into the big picture.
Pay attention to the people and things you value in life
It is so easy to focus on your troubles and neglect the people and things that are important in your life. Reflect on this and correct any imbalance.
It is a curious fact that reflects human nature that if you have an active spiritual life you will find that stress distracts you from the essential spiritual exercises of worship, prayer, Bible reading and having fellowship with other Christians. In contrast, if you do not have much of a spiritual life you may turn to God, start praying, pick up a Bible (and wonder where to start) and think about attending church.
Ensure you have a clear conscience
Confess your faults and put right any broken relationship. A sense of sinfulness and guilt whether due to a real situation or an over-active conscious can be distracting and needs to be resolved. Explore aspects of this in Forgiveness.
Pause for Thought
In this chapter we have discussed what you can do about the feeling of being stressed. This is not dealing with the causes of stress but only about how it affects you and how you react to stress. Before moving on, reflect on what you have learned and put together a plan for how you intend to react when you are stressed in the future.
Do not wait to be stressed! Practice the techniques at every opportunity so when you are stressed there will be a better chance you will recall them and you will know what to do. If you have to scrabble round looking for this website or your lists you will find it so much harder to cope!
Remember that doing something about the way you feel when you are stressed eases the burden of stress and frees you to deal with the causes of your stresses in a more relaxed state of mind.
Do remember to revisit this page from time to time, especially after you have been through a new bout of stress.
Also return to Recognising Your Symptoms of Stress and do a fresh analysis of the symptoms of stress that you express.
Are there any differences with your original attempt?
What do you learn about yourself from such differences?
At some point ask for the help of a close, caring and trustworthy friend who knows you well, especially when you are stressed. Ask them to complete the analysis with you and then discuss their findings comparing them with your own assessment. What more do you learn about yourself?