Are most of the stressors in your life, the things which cause you to feel stressed-out and anxious, internal or external; or are they a confusing mix of both? Are these stressors acute or chronic? Are you making your own life more difficult than it needs to be, or is the world around you simply more than you can comfortably handle? You must get to know your stressors before you can deal with them.
Find the sources of your stress
The first thing to remember when trying to manage the stress in your life is this – stress is normal and natural. It is the physical reaction of your body to the world around you. The actual stressors you experience are events or situations you experience which trigger stress in your body. How your body responds to the stressors in your life depends on the type of stress you are experiencing; if the stress is acute, or new and situational, or whether the stress is chronic, an ongoing situation which causes stress over longer periods, which will determine your body’s response.
Acute stress vs. chronic stress
Acute stress is largely situational. It is your body’s reaction to an immediate threat, challenge or frightening situation. This response by your body, essentially the fight-or-flight response, may actually be helpful in a life threatening situation or, in an exhilarating situation such as bungee jumping or sky diving for example, it may add to the thrill of the moment.
A single episode of acute stress will generally not be harmful to healthy individuals although, a very dangerous situation, such as a truly life threatening episode, may lead to post-traumatic stress disorder or even a heart attack.
On the other hand, while mild acute stress may be a great motivator in a given situation, chronic stress can be quite debilitating. The ongoing effects of a situation you feel unable to change or control may lead to insomnia, chronic headaches, and worse. While the symptoms of chronic stress may be more subtle than those of acute stress, the effects may also become chronic – and more problematic.
Identify your stressors
To effectively manage stress in your life, you must first identify them, and then develop techniques and strategies to manage them. Simply ignoring the stress in your life is usually not helpful.
A great way to begin managing the stress in your life is to make a list of your stressors, the top ten issues or situations you are facing at the moment. You will notice almost immediately that, while some of your stressors are things which happen to you, external stressors, others will exist because of the things you do, internal stressors.
The external stressors in your life may cover a range of situations, and they may be positive or negative. They are simply the things which happen to you, just a normal part of living in the world. Do not take them personally, as every human being experiences these things.
Here is a short list of external stressors about which we should all be aware, provided by the Mayo Clinic:
- Major life change stressors. These changes can be positive — a new marriage, a planned pregnancy, a promotion or a new house. Or they can be negative — the death of a loved one or a divorce.
- Environmental stressors. The input from the world around us can be a source of stress. Consider how you react to noises, such as a barking dog, or to too much or too little light in a room.
- Unpredictable event stressors. Out of the blue, uninvited houseguests arrive. Or you discover your rent has gone up or that your pay has been cut.
- Family stressors. The occasional spousal spat, a teenager who refuses to cooperate or a nagging mother-in-law can all contribute to stress.
- Workplace stressors. Common stressors at work include an impossible workload, urgent deadlines and a demanding boss.
- Social stressors. Just think about going on a blind date and you probably start to sweat.
Internal stressors are just that, the things we think, or believe, or fear, which create stress in our lives. Any thoughts or feelings which generate anxiety or stress for you in a given situation can be thought of as an internal stressor. Self-induced stress tends to be chronic, as it is usually based in our belief systems and feelings, which can make it difficult to overcome.
Again, here is a list of internal stressors from the Mayo Clinic:
- Irrational fears. Common ones include fear of flying, fear of heights and fear of public speaking.
- Uncertainty. Few people enjoy not knowing what might happen. Think about how you might react when waiting for the results of a medical test.
- Belief systems. These might be attitudes, opinions or expectations. You may not even think about how your beliefs shape your experience, but these preset thoughts often set us up for stress. Consider the expectations you put on yourself to create a perfect holiday celebration or advance up the career ladder.
However, the good news is – human beings possess the ability to control their thoughts and feelings. The bad news though, is that doing so is not always easy, since we identify so closely with our belief systems and the feelings surrounding them. Restructuring our beliefs and the ways in which we think about the world around us is not easy, but it certainly can be done.
If you believe you need help identifying and managing the stressors in your life, whether internal or external, as well as developing strategies to deal with them,
If you’re having trouble coping with stress… Contact us today for a consultation.