Does Stress Have You Running Around Like a Headless Chook?
Have you been consistently grumpy of late? Impatient at work? Yelling at your kids? Or snappy with your partner? Are you reacting negatively to friends and social contact that you usually would enjoy? Does the guy on the tram who is talking loudly on his phone irritate you so much you want to tell him to shut up?
Heightened reactions and irritability in your primary and peripheral relationships are the tell-tale signs that stress may be causing damage to your health, mood, productivity, relationships, and quality of life. Studies have confirmed that sustained periods of stress prevent us from relating positively and effectively, in essence, undermine relationships that are important to us.
People are very quick to say to me “I’m so stressed out!” But whilst it is easy to talk about being stressed, most struggle to define what is specifically stressing them. That lack of clarity makes it impossible to manage or reduce the stress, leading to a build- up of unresolved stress in the body and mind.
So, just what is stress? What causes it? How does it impact your relationships? And what do you do about it?
Stress is most often defined as the body’s response to external pressures or demands of life. It includes your emotional and physical reactions to events that are both expected and unexpected.
Stress is an important response to being human – it helps us to physically prepare for perceived threats and ‘take flight’ from danger. But the human body doesn’t distinguish between physical and psychological threats. A chronic and prolonged state of psychological stress can leave your body prepared for ‘flight’ most of the time and unable to switch off, or turn down, the body’s alarm systems. In short, your body will be 'frozen' on 'flight' mode, therefore stress builds up and up.
Research has shown that being in a constant state of stress can give you more than just a headache. Prolonged stress has been shown to progressively break down our body’s systems – including our brain function. But the most stressful part of stress is in its cumulative effect on our ability to manage the future. Unresolved stresses experienced in the past, can magnify our experience of future stresses, making it harder to cope over time.
So, the next stress in your life (which is inevitable) is likely to feel like a double whammy!
This long-term exposure to stress can lead to some very significant health problems beyond just anxiety and depression. Prolonged periods of stress exposes you to trauma. It can also lead to higher blood pressure, increased risk of heart attack and stroke, suppression of immunity, accelerated ageing, infertility, and even a rewiring of the brain. Chronic stress can also be the driver of other serious health impacting behaviours such as comfort eating, increased alcohol consumption, or a reliance on drugs and medication.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, chances are, you’re experiencing some degree of psychological stress:
- Memory problems
- Inability to concentrate
- Anxious or racing thoughts
- Constant worrying
- Tension in shoulders
- Knots in your stomach
- Irritability and or Anger outbursts.
- Inability to relax
- Feeling overwhelmed, in despair, or Hopeless
- Depression or general unhappiness
- Changes in bowel habit
- Chest pain or rapid heartbeat
- Loss of Sex drive.
- Frequent colds
- Change in eating habits, including comfort eating
- Alteration in sleep patterns
- Increase in your use of alcohol or cigarettes
- Dependence on the use of recreational drugs
Causes of Stress
Stress can have many causes. Some of the more common causes include:
- Over working
- Being highly Self-Critical
- Traumatic experiences
- Suffering a protracted illness
- Family demands such as caring for elderly parents or young children
- Experiencing a relationship break down, Separation or Divorce.
- Loss - Losing a job or loved one
- Moving house or other significant Major Life Changes
- Undergoing a change in financial status
How Stress Impact Relationships
While most people acknowledge “stress” affects the quality of their relationship, few understand how it contributes to partners disconnecting and relationship breakdown.
Studies have confirmed that our reactions to our partners are heightened by how much stress there is in our lives. Chronic or prolonged stress can make us react negatively to the normal ups and downs of a relationship much more acutely.
Usually one partner who is stressed feels the need to shut down or tune out while the other demands more attention or comfort. When partners stress levels are not managed or reduced, this cycle of interaction can result in feelings of negativity, anger or resentment. It can lead to disconnection, reduced emotional intimacy and Loneliness.
And our modern lives haven’t made reducing or avoiding stress any easier. As a Mental Health Counsellor, I frequently hear from people who use social media platforms or the internet at the end of the day (including in the bedroom!), to de-compress or relax. So often however, this type of screen time before bed disturbs sleep patterns (by lowering your melatonin levels). In addition, it takes away the attention from your partner.
What You Can Do About Stress
Everyone responds to the demands and stresses of their life differently, but it is never ok to ignore stress. Prolonged or chronic feelings of stress are not “normal,” and a life without the profound emotional and physical feelings and impact of stress is possible.
With so many causes of stress present in our normal, everyday lives, some stress reduction rituals can help us maintain good health and wellbeing:
1. Check in with someone you trust. A trusted friend or mentor can provide honest feedback on changes they see in you, as a result of stress.
2. Sit down with pen and paper to consider what changes you can make to your life or environment, e.g., go for a brisk walk at lunch time, or refrain from alcohol for a week.
3. Start a daily or weekly practice for self-care. It may sound simple, but even a 10 minute daily tea ritual can have big returns for stress reduction.
4. Eat well, exercise, and make sleep a priority. A moderate exercise routine and balanced diet will give your body a fighting chance to function and sleep well.
5. And if stress is impacting your relationships and quality of life, see a Psychologist, Counsellor or Psychotherapist. A trained expert in stress reduction can make a big difference to the quality of your life.
How Counselling Helps With Stress
First of all, counselling can help you gain clarity about the root causes of your stress and any obstacles that may stand in the way of managing it more effectively. This puts you, along with your Counsellor, in a position to find sustainable solutions.
Counselling can also provide you with a daily stress-reducing ritual which, once practised, can become your second nature. It can also help you identify specific relaxation strategies that can help you manage the acute aspects of stress inducing situations.
And if significant life changes or transitions are causing your stress or are contributing factors, counselling can help you to adjust to these changes and manage the impact they are having on your life.
Finally, Couples Counselling or Marriage Counselling can help you reconnect or stay connected to your partner and rediscover safe emotional and sexual intimacy.
Our team of highly experienced Psychologists and Counsellors can help you discover a less stressful existence and put you, not your stress, in control of your life. Call 0400 999 918 to find to speak to one of us.