Stress is a normal part of life. You might feel stressed about something like a busy day or if you’re going through something difficult like grief or sitting an exam.
While stress can be part of everyday life, the feelings that come with it shouldn’t take over your life. If you’re feeling stressed and not sure what to do about it read on…
We spoke to Clinical Psychologist, Dr Clare Kambamettu about what exactly is stress, the causes of it and how it can be identified. She also provides some tips and tricks on how to manage stress in your everyday life.
What is stress and what causes it?
“Stress is our body’s normal response to pressure and is caused by many different situations,” explains clinical psychologist Clare.
She adds: “It Is often triggered when we experience something new, unexpected or something that threatens our sense of self, or when we feel we have little control over a situation. It’s important to know that stress can be caused by positive changes like starting a new job or moving house as well as things we perceive as more negative events.”
“As humans, we like certainty, it helps us to feel safe and so when life changes in a big way, positively or negatively, we experience stress as a physical response to an adjustment. When we are stressed, our body produces hormones including adrenaline and cortisol which helps us to respond very quickly if we are in danger. This is helpful for shorts amount of time because it can make us more productive and focus our attention on the task at hand but if we are stressed for a long time, over months or years, those hormones can affect our immunity, metabolism, sleep, appetite and other physical processes.”
“This is known as chronic or toxic stress,” says Clare. “and if you are experiencing it, it’s important to take steps to try and manage it. Feeling more stressed right now is entirely normal, Covid has created so much uncertainty and challenge in our lives that feeling stressed is a very normal response to highly abnormal life events.”
How can we identify stress in ourselves and in others?
Clare explains that there are often physical, psychological, and behavioural symptoms to stress.
Physical symptoms include:
- Shallow breathing
- Aches and pains
Psychological symptoms include:
- Struggling to concentrate
- Feeling like your mind is racing.
- Feeling tearful, sad, frustrated, irritable, low, overwhelmed, or anxious more days than not.
Behavioural symptoms include:
- Difficulties and increased conflict in relationships
- Withdrawal from other people
- Problems with sleep and appetite
“Sometimes it’s hard to figure out if we are stressed, one of the best things to do if you are not sure is ask somebody who cares about you. People close to us are often a more accurate mirror of our behaviour than we are ourselves,” Clare says.
What are the best ways of dealing with stress?
“Learn how to calm your body in the moment you notice you are stressed with ‘sticking plaster’ techniques that can help you feel better quickly,” Clare advises.
Here are some of Clare’s favourites.
4, 7, 8 breathing:
“This reduces cortisol and adrenaline and increases GABA, an amino avid which helps to regulate our nervous system. Breathe in for 4 seconds, expanding your tummy as you do so, hold your breath for 7 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds.” Clare explains.
Practice the 5-4-3-2-1 technique.
“Adapted from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, notice 5 things you can hear, 4 things you can see, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell and one thing you can taste.”
Repeat coping statement to yourself.
“Practice repeating coping statements to yourself, things like ‘I am stressed, this will past,’ ‘this situation is out of my control, I just need to help my body relax,’ and ‘I will get through this time,” Clare advises.
Learn how to be kind to yourself.
“Learn how to be kind to yourself and give your body the nourishment, rest and appreciation it needs. Have a look at Kristen Neff’s self-compassion exercises for tips on developing this skill,” Clare recommends.
“If you feel you are experiencing long term or chronic stress think about completing the HSE’s free CBT stress control course available at stresscontrol.ie.
Stress is something we all go through, but if it’s getting in the way of a happy life, it’s important to act on it and talk to someone you can trust about how you’ve been feeling.
By Lauren Allen