Stress has become synonymous with burnout, overload and overwhelm. But did you know not all stress is bad?
Stress and its related problems have now reached epidemic proportions in the western world. A recent wellness in the workplace survey found that 31.2 percent of all NZ employees feel their stress levels have risen in the last two years. Many people find busy modern life to be overwhelming.
So, what can you do to manage your stress better?
My 25 years of experience as a counsellor have shown me that the first stage of managing your stress levels effectively is to understand the difference between “good” stress and “bad” stress.
Is there really such a thing as “good” stress?
I think of “good” stress as being “normal” stress. This is the stress that is brought on by dealing with what life throws at you. It’s the stress you feel when you are facing changes that take you out of your comfort zone.
Maybe you’ve just moved to a new neighbourhood, or started a new job. Maybe you’re experiencing the disruptive arrival of a precious new baby and you’re worried about “getting it right”. Even if these changes are great potentially, this type of stress can feel quite uncomfortable while you adjust to the new circumstances. You may feel like you are under pressure.
But these sorts of challenges are really just a part of life. It may feel difficult, but you will most likely come out the other side intact, and maybe even wiser for the experience – as long as this type of scenario is not too prolonged or traumatic.
So, this type of stress can play a positive role in challenging you to try new, exciting, different things and modes of being. It’s part of living a full, vital life.
What about the “bad” stress?
Bad stress is when your stress levels become dangerously high and you are feeling overwhelmed to the point of serious burnout.
It is usually caused by deep-seated unresolved issues or unabated emotional stress, such as workplace bullying or supporting someone through a major health crisis.
The long-standing stress brought on by unresolved issues can be insidious because it accumulates slowly over time, without you realising it’s building. Maybe you’re dealing with one or two big problems and you feel like you’re managing okay. But then life throws you another couple of curve balls and suddenly you find yourself overwhelmed and not coping at all.
At this point people usually realise they need to implement some serious damage control. The problem is that with much going on and so little spare time, there’s often not much clarity around what to address first.
This is why many people struggle along right up until their health suffers. Then they may try to alleviate some of their stress by exercising and eating more healthily. They might try yoga or learn to meditate. These self-care practices will definitely promote feelings of wellbeing and assist in defusing some of the anxiety caused by stress. I highly recommend them to all my clients.
But unfortunately, these practices are often not enough. If the underlying issues causing the stress are not identified and addressed, it will be very difficult to create balance and a greater feeling of control over your life.
That’s why identifying precisely what is causing your stress is so important. You need to target your enemy before you go into battle.
Take heart: it is possible to turn your life around in a relatively short time
You can learn new skills to change a very dire situation for the better. Research shows that it only takes three weeks to begin to change an old habit, and another three weeks to cement in new and life-affirming behaviours.
The key elements in successful stress resolution are:
✓ Believing that you deserve better outcomes
✓ Committing to yourself
✓ Recognising dangerous stress levels
✓ Identifying the stressors
✓ Prioritising key issues/emotional problems
✓ Gaining necessary support and knowledge to formulate a robust plan
✓ Implementing and practising effective new skills and behaviours.
You will notice that I have included believing in and committing to yourself at the top of this list. This is absolutely vital. You need to dedicate some time and energy to creating a better deal for yourself, and also be gentle enough with yourself to recognise that overcoming your stress is a process. It will not happen overnight.
The most important thing is that you begin the process and put one foot in front of the other in the right direction.
If you want to find out more about techniques for effective self-care and stress reduction, check out my 6-week self-directed course Peace in Your World. You can learn how to manage your stress and gain insights into your motivations and stressors.