What is Stress?

Stress. A word that so many individuals use to describe their job, partner, friend, son, daughter or life circumstances. For some individuals it seems that everything causes them stress. Stress is the second biggest complaint for why people are absent from work and can also lead to serious health conditions that affect the individual.

What I would like to say at this point is that there is no such thing as a stressful job, partner, child, husband, spouse, stranger or a stressful situation. What actually causes ‘stress’ is the individual themselves in how they react and respond to the pressure caused by others and situations around them.

Stress occurs for the individual when they are unable to respond effectively in managing the pressure that is put onto them. Consequently, they become overloaded and unable to meet the demands that are placed on them. How many balls can you juggle? Maybe you can only juggle one, or two or more juggling balls.

Imagine that each of these juggling balls represents a particular area or situation in your life. For example, work, family and other responsibilities. Do not get sucked into the demands of life in trying to juggle more balls than you can. In doing so will increase pressure upon you. As more pressure builds up, it can lead to inefficiency, emotional, psychological and physical problems resulting in ill health (there is a greater likelihood that you will drop all the balls). It is important to recognise how many balls you can juggle and stick with this. If you can only juggle one or two juggling balls then learn to juggle them as best you can.

It is important to find your optimal point of performance and stick to it. Have you ever cooked food using a pressure cooker? As the pressure rises, the temperature of the water and steam inside the seal pot also rises above the normal 100’C boiling point. After a short period of time when this happens, steam is forced out of the valve on the top of the pressure cooker and usually a whistle is sounded out loud. This warns you to take the pressure cooker off the oven. Imagine that this idea of a pressure cooker actually represents you. In daily life we all are faced with various amounts of pressure. Overtime this pressure starts to build as perhaps we take on more tasks or situations. However when you get close to your optimum point and push just beyond it, your body (like the pressure cooker) starts to indicate the need to release the pressure. This is usually indicated to you in various ways such as physical tension, tiredness, and irritability. Also as this pressure builds beyond your optimal point it turns into stress when you feel unable to cope.

Unfortunately many of us do not take heed of the warnings our body gives us and will push beyond our optimal point. Imagine leaving a pressure cooker on the stove, way beyond the point where the whistle starts to sound and then BANG it explodes. Would you do this? Of course not, you would take it off the oven. Yet many individuals do not take themselves off the heat and release the pressure safely. They wait until they go BANG. It is important to know your optimal point and take action before further damage is done to your wellbeing.

Also we are not all the same in how much pressure we can manage in our lives (the number of balls we can juggle). The easiest way to explain this is to imagine two individuals in the same working environment doing the same roles with the same competences. One individual ends up being ‘stressed’ and the other one doesn’t. This is down to the fact that one individual is able to respond better to the pressure (juggle more balls) than the other individual. However it does not mean the other individual is less effective either, we are all different and not the same.

As mentioned earlier, what is key in managing pressure in your life (stress), is to develop and improve your response to it. You may not be able to perhaps reduce the demands in your life, but what you can do is develop your ability to respond to it in a more proactive way, by taking steps to look after your wellbeing. This can help you deal with pressure more effectively, and reduce the impact that stress has on your life. This is sometimes called developing emotional resilience. This refers to your ability to adapt and bounce back when something difficult happens in your life.

Your emotional resilience is only improved through practice. A major part of this is the importance to change your thoughts, change your feelings and change your actions (see next month’s article for further discussion). Never forget the importance of taking responsibility for your own. You may not be able to control the events/situations in your life, but what you can control is how you respond to them.

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