Another helpful way of understanding the causes of stress is to work out each stress’s category. This is particularly important as different categories of stress require different management techniques. There are three categories to consider.
1. A sudden or unexpected incident
Life is going along happily but suddenly and unexpectedly there is a change that overshadows everything else and demands immediate and full attention, excluding everything else (or it feels like that at least). Such incidents could be due to an unexpected bereavement or redundancy, a sudden illness or significant injury, a major argument or computer failure.
2. A long-term external influence
This is a stress that may not have felt as if it were a stress when it started but gradually has built up over time – but it may have little directly to do with you! This stress is likely to come from the world around or other people, particularly in situations that you cannot control. Such situations could come from a housing problem or problem with work colleagues perhaps when there is a change of supervisor or boss.
3. A long-term internal handicap
This is an individual matter related to personality and previous life experiences such as shyness, a history of failed relationships or a disturbed childhood or abuse. Such traits or experiences can be such an essential and fixed aspect of who you are that you may not recognise that they are a source of stress. However, such internal conflicts are not usually entirely responsible for a particular stress. Instead, they are more likely to be a feature that makes the stress especially difficult to cope with.
Identifying stress as one of these three categories will help you to understand where the stress comes from, how it develops and, perhaps most important of all, how you can tackle it.
Each type of stress requires different management techniques so you need to know which category your stresses belong to. However, stresses get intertwined so it may be difficult to isolate them. Instead you may prefer to log them as ‘factors’ that contribute to your stress. Go back to your list of stresses that you created in Getting Started/Prioritize Problems and categorise each of them as described.
Then return to this page as we consider a variety of techniques that suit the categories described. You have heard about these techniques before as they are listed in Getting Started/Techniques for Managing Stress but now you will learn when and how they can be used most effectively.
Stress Management Techniques
listed according to the stress category they are most likely to help.
1. A sudden or unexpected incident
Eg. Bereavement, illness, argument.
There is no time to prepare. Something happens suddenly and unexpectedly and demands immediate attention. This could be a road accident, argument, illness or a news item that causes distress. The list could go on indefinitely. Reflect for a moment on your own stresses and name the ones that come into this category. Bear these in mind as you investigate the following management techniques. Think about how they can be used for managing your particular problem.
Yes! The first thing to do is relax. OK, I know, you do not feel like it. You are all tensed up and ready to go – is it to be fight or flight? But first make yourself relax – breathe slowly in and out pausing between breaths and relax your muscles in your shoulders, back and arms. If you have been doing the training suggested in Easing the Feeling you should be doing this already. It needs to be ingrained so it becomes an automatic reaction to stress. If you do this, perhaps even at the same time as you are leaping into the burning house to rescue a child, or some such, you will be more focussed – not on your inner feelings – but on the immediate situation. You will be therefore less likely to panic and so will be more observant, assessing all that is going on and will be better equipped to respond appropriately.
Clear the decks!
Sometimes a new stress is so overwhelming or obtrusive it dominates your life demanding your full attention. Yet other stresses, cares and responsibilities still need attention. You will need to stop and make an assessment, hand over responsibility for some issues to others, close down other issues for the time being, let everyone know you are engaged and cannot be disturbed – then deal with new and urgent problem. Sort it out or at least contain it before you return to your more usual way of life.
When you are busy it is all too easy to feel unable to cope with something extra so you ignore it, or try to! You will worry about it, though. When you are busy it drops to the back of your mind but when you have a spare moment it pops back into your conscious thoughts and your mind goes round in circles. This is not helpful. It is like a wound that gets infected – the longer you leave it to fester the worse it can get and then you have a much bigger problem to deal with.
Instead, you need to commit yourself and give the situation some concentrated time and thought. Examine the situation, think through the different options, make lists, discuss it with a close friend. Then make decisions and take action.
Sometimes a new stress comes suddenly and with everything else going on, you know you cannot do anything about it – but it is not that bad, or does not seem to be. You know it will take time to assess the situation and decide what to do, yet, if it turns out to be a trivial matter you will be upset that you allowed it to distract you. You may tend to refuse to acknowledge the problem or you spend time worrying about it. Neither is helpful. In such cases you need to adopt holding strategies. This means you acknowledge the stress and accept you cannot resolve it, at least in the immediate future, but you take steps to reduce its impact and contain it until you have the resources to cope.
Can you delegate the problem to someone else?
Or would it be better to hand over other problems so you can give this new problem your undivided attention?
Ideally, discuss the new situation with those who have an interest in the situation and see if you can work together to develop a strategy to help.
We all pray the ‘emergency prayer, ‘God! Help!’ or even just, ‘God!’ at one time or another though you may use it more as an exclamation or even an expletive rather than a prayer. Ancient wisdom says,
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
So there, you have permission to pray like that! There needs to be no embarrassment or apology. God reads your heart. He knows how desperate you are. He wants you to come to him with your needs. You can pray where you are, even under your breathe and even while you are already taking action.
Sleep on it
So it is an emergency, but really, how desperate is it?
Could it wait until morning?
Sometimes the situation has to be dealt with immediately but trying to resolve a problem when tired at the end of the day is not helpful. If at all possible take a break. Have a good night’s rest that will refresh you physically and emotionally. In the morning you will think more clearly and it is amazing how your mind will keep working even though you are asleep. You may wake up with the problem solved! It is important though that you do not take your problem to bed with you. Leave it in the living room. The bedroom is for sleep.
See Uniquely You/Insomnia for help about sleeping. Then use the back button to return.
If you are stuck
By now you should have some ideas about what to do but for specific help to deal with specific problems go back to Getting Started/Techniques for Managing Stress (then click the back button to return). Here you will find a list of techniques to choose from. Some are expanded in other chapters but at least here is a summary you can quickly scan.
2. A long-term external influence
Eg. Housing problem or problem with work colleagues.
These are stresses that come from the world around you, they may not be especially related to your personal history, lifestyle or resources. If they are not your fault you do not need to feel guilty! They may have been there for a long time before you realise they are causing you stress. Equally, they are not easily solvable and sometimes you may have to limit your aim to controlling the stress rather than overcome it. There is no easy or quick answer to every stress. Sorry!
One advantage is that you usually have time. You can reflect on the situation, analyse it, try one way of managing but if that does not work try something else. When you analyse your situation you will discover that you have already tried some techniques – perhaps this has been part of a plan but it could be an almost unconscious effort that you have made without really planning it – this illustrates how resourceful your human nature is. Take a note of this for such techniques may be worth trying again.
When you realise you are suffering from stress resist the urge to take knee-jerk action. It may work and in an emergency you may have to do it, but try not to commit yourself to an action that you may regret when the immediate situation settles down. The priority is to set aside time to reflect on the situation, other factors that play a part and the resources you have available.
Maybe you should do that now. Before reading further start a list or check the list you have already created. Include in it the issues that are causing you stress, other factors to take into consideration and the resources you have to enable you to cope.
Done that? Keep it by you as you read on. Refer to it from time to time and add other items as they come to mind.
Try not to let stress take over your life. It can easily happen. Coping with the stress in your life – or even just worrying about it – can fill your thoughts and dominate your life.
Is this what you talk about when with your family and friends?
Is it your last thought at night and your first in the morning?
Are you tired all the time even though you do not know of any reason for this?
Have you lost your sense of humour?
Do you no longer take pleasure in the simple everyday aspects of life?
If so, that suggests you have your life out of balance. It may seem strange but you may be better able to cope with stress if you first ignore it!
Go back to basics. Think of your life as a whole and check you are maintaining a balance between the different aspects of life:
eat a healthy diet
take regular exercise
ensure you have a decent night’s sleep
cultivate good relationships with family, friends and God
make good use of your free time.
This is to do with strengthening your personal resources. You will then be better equipped to deal with the stresses in your life.
Go through you list of stresses and decide their priority. Are they:
• Urgent, must do something about this NOW.
• Needs to be dealt with but not immediately.
• I cannot influence this so must leave it alone.
• Well actually this is not a problem after all.
Done that? Now deal with them one at a time. Develop a plan to deal with them. Give most attention to the more important problems although you may gain a sense of encouragement by sorting out small and easily fixed problems. From time to time revisit your list – add more, delete some and reclassify others. Work to a plan.
Go back to Getting Started/Prioritize Problems for more information about this topic (then click the back button to return).
Make lists and use a diary
I keep mentioning lists and it is worth focusing on this again as they are so important. You cannot remember everything you have to do, especially when you are stressed so make lists. Plan your day and week – keep a diary. Set aside time for each activity – not just your stresses.
Allow time for meals and try to eat regularly. This, incidentally is an important feature of adopting healthy eating habits.
Take toilet breaks regularly (do not wait until you are bursting). You will feel much better and will be better able to concentrate.
Try not to get stuck in repetitive activities for more than an hour at a time. Take brief breaks for 2-5 minutes at intervals.
Anticipate your requirements so you have the resources readily available to complete each task.
Review your lists regularly. When a problem has resolved delete it from your list and give yourself a round of applause! It is so satisfying.
You cannot keep going all the time fully concentrating and dealing with stress after stress. It is not humanly possible. You need to build into your life times for sleep, meals, relaxing and having fun. Build into your daily diary, time for these. Build into your weekly and yearly diary, special times for more extended rest and recuperation.
This means family and friends. People who will stick with you in the tough times as well as the good times. People who will forgive you when you take out on them your irritations and frustrations, that are nothing to do with them but reflect how you feel when you cannot express your feelings to those who are responsible for your bad moods.
Support networks like this:
Make you feel valued and worthwhile
Allow you to be yourself
Give constructive feedback – both positive and negative
Listen to your worries
Challenge you when it is needed
Introduce you to new ideas and interests
Relax and have fun with you.
You will need to work on this in the good times as preparation for the bad times when you will need help. Bear in mind though, that this is a two way street. If you want family and friends to support you, you will need to support them. Express appreciation for help given but do not try to match each other’s contribution. That turns friendship into a business deal.
If you hold a grudge against someone who has hurt you, you hurt yourself emotionally and spiritually, and it can lead to physical symptoms too, so forgiving the perpetrator of your hurt can lift a huge burden of stress. The person you are forgiving need not know about this; in some circumstances it even might be harmful to you if they did know. They may have died or live far away. You may not know who they are. Whatever the circumstances, you can still forgive as forgiveness is primarily an internal act. It is something you actively choose to do. You decide that you will not hold to personal account the harm someone has done to you. Bear in mind that forgiveness is not a one-off event. You need to keep on forgiving whenever painful memories recur, and they will.
Forgiving those who have hurt you lifts an emotional load off you. There is a sense of relief. The temptation to brood about the hurt and dream about retaliation fades away. You can remember what happened but no longer get churned up with emotion. That frees you to concentrate on other issues that need your attention without the distractions that resentment causes. There is a whole page about forgiveness later in this module.
For further help
Go back to Getting Started/Techniques for Managing Stress and go through the list again to see what is relevant to your particular present needs.
3. A long-term internal handicap
Eg. Shyness, history of failed relationships, disturbed childhood or abuse.
Do you recognise that part of the reason for being stressed is related to the person you are? Perhaps you are naturally a quiet, shy person and are aware that others ignore you or take advantage of you and that is a factor in being stressed. You may be aware that a traumatic experience such as a disturbed childhood, being assaulted or violated has left you with fears or a sense of inadequacy that seem to wake up when you are stressed and interfere with your ability to cope.
Such experiences are very hard to acknowledge to yourself let alone talk about to others. They can therefore lead to a sense of isolation, despair and inadequacy so it can seem hardly worth the effort to try to do anything about anything!
All is NOT lost! I genuinely believe that of you, whoever you and whatever you have been through. There is hope. Hang on to that however dark the journey appears to be at the moment.
So what can you do? Some issues we will not cover until the Delving Deeper module as you will need all the resources available to help you cope with some experiences so I prefer to concentrate for now in building up your resources and cope with more manageable stresses.
The first thing is to acknowledge to yourself the situation as it really is. Do not ignore it or try to minimise its importance. This is the first step to doing something about it. Having done that you may then need to put it to one side as dealing with it can be difficult. It can absorb all your attention and overwhelm your resources. But still acknowledge it is there, make allowances for it, but delay trying to deal with it until you have built up your resources and have gained control over other stress issues. Give yourself permission to do this. It is a positive step on the journey of stress management.
Control Worry and Fear
When you are going through a bad patch of worry and anxiety, whatever the source, sooner or later as you are brooding about it you will also start to think about your ‘long-term internal handicap’ whatever it is. Be aware of this. You will not be able to stop this so accept it but only allow your focus to be on your handicap for a short time. Make yourself get up and do something – go for a walk, wash the dishes – anything physically active that keeps your mind, emotions and body active. Worry leads to fear – what if someone finds out – will anyone understand – what if I have a panic attack or break down? Fears need to be faced. Read more about this in Getting Started/Techniques for Managing Stress and in Uniquely You/Facing Fear.
Talk, Time and Tears
These are the three key tools needed to help cope with any sort of long-term internal handicap. There are no quick answers – you will need time, and lots of it, to learn how to face your inner fears and hurts. And then you will need more time as one of the key healing techniques is to talk about what happened and how it affected you. That will not come easily and you may make a few false starts but when you talk about what has been hidden for a long time you face it openly and honestly and as you integrate what happened into the current you, the experience and hurt lose their power over you. You are in control. Of course, you need the right person to share your story with and not everyone has the gift of listening and helping without getting drawn into your story. All of this is emotionally distressing so tears and emotional distress will be a phase to go through. And there may be lots of tears over a long time. It is a necessary phase and is a healing experience.
One problem with talking about long-term internal handicaps such as adverse character traits or previous incidents of abuse is that your listener can be overwhelmed. They may withdraw due to distress or disbelief and that can add to your stress. Alternatively, they may be reminded of their own experiences and interrupt so they can talk about themselves. That too is hurtful and can add to a sense of rejection. The best person to talk to, therefore, is someone who has been trained to listen. This could be a psychologist or mental health worker who has had training as a counsellor or it could be a volunteer who has had training in listening and counselling.
An NHS Counselling Service may be available near where you live. Consult your GP. See https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/free-therapy-or-counselling/ for an introduction to counselling services. Do an internet search for ‘local counselling services’ to find other services that may be provided by churches, local community groups or private (to be paid for) counselling practitioners.