It’s National Psychology Week and to celebrate, the Australian Psychological Society has released data showing that on average, Australians are more stressed than they were last year. They are stressed about money, about their family, and about being unhealthy (to read more, check out their webpage).
What is stress? Stress occurs when there is an imbalance between what is being asked of us, and what we think we can cope with. This definition explains why some people can handle complex problems with ease, but for others, everyday tasks are enough to cause high levels of stress.
How can I reduce my stress? There are really only three options: change the situation you’re in, change your perceptions about coping, or actually change your ability to cope.
Change the Situation
The most obvious strategy, although we still forget about it sometimes! What can you physically change to avoid the feelings of stress? Can you avoid a person that makes you mad? Should you limit your consumption of news headlines/ social networking sites if they make you feel tense? Would your neighbours listen if you asked them to turn down the music? Is it time to change jobs/ career? This strategy works well if the stressor is under your control, and if the feelings of stress are confined to a small area of your life.
Increase Your Perception of Coping
Where psychology steps in! What can you change about how you view the situation? Try out some of the following techniques:
Replace negative generalisations with realism – Do you find yourself saying or thinking things like ‘It’s too much’, ‘I’m too busy’ or ‘I can’t cope’? These kinds of negative statements have the power to make us feel stressed, regardless of what is actually happening. Aim to replace these phrases with more realistic assessments such as ‘It’s a lot, but I can manage it’, ‘I’m busy now, but it won’t last’ or ‘I feel overwhelmed right now, but I’ll get through it’.
Stop wishing and start living – A lot of stress comes from wanting a situation to be different, rather than accepting it as it is. If you can’t physically change the situation, stop focusing on how you’d like it to be, and just be in the imperfect, messy, confusing, expectation riddled, hostile environment. If you’re stuck at a brick wall, continually pushing against it isn’t going to make it fall down, but it will tire you out. Save your energy for things you can actually change.
Less imagination, more focus - If you know a stressful event is coming up, resist the temptation to imagine it over and over again, spending your time rehearsing for unlikely scenarios. Mentally rehearsing tells your body there’s something to worry about, and to produce stress hormones accordingly. The best preparation is to stop worrying and start to focus on your breathing. Take long, slow deep breaths, and focus on the air as it moves in and out of your lungs. Each time your mind moves to worrying, focus it back on your breathing. Slowing your breathing sends a physiological signal to your body to reduce production of stress hormones.
Improve your ability to cope
There are a few basic activities that will improve your ability to cope with stress. Exercising, making time for sleep, eating well, maintaining your relationships and engaging in self-care daily will minimise the harm that stress can cause.
Beyond this, improving your ability to cope might include taking practical actions. Perhaps you need to undertake professional development to make it easier to manage demanding work tasks? Do you need to be shown how to manage your time or your budget by a professional? Would you benefit from learning relaxation techniques? Or perhaps you need more thinking tips from a Psychologist such as myself?!
Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.