What Is Stress?

Stress is considered to be how we react when we feel overwhelmed, pressured or when we find something threatening. It’s a normal human response and we can all experience stress sometimes. Not all stress is bad for us and some stress can even be helpful. For instance, helpful stress can motivate us to take action, such as to revise thoroughly for an upcoming exam or prepare well for a job interview. This type of helpful stress is called acute stress as it’s usually short-term and in proportion to the situation

However, stress can become a problem for us when our stress response continues without any interruption or time for relaxation.  When this happens the stressor is often no longer present but our stress response persists.  This continued activation of our nervous system due to stress can lead to physical, emotional and behaviour symptoms.  These symptoms can feel like they’re wearing us down. This situation is referred to as chronic stress and it’s the type of stress that this article explores. We will teach you five simple stress-busting tips!

Symptoms Of Chronic Stress

There are a number of symptoms that we can look out for to identify chronic stress. Physical symptoms can include headaches, difficulties in sleeping, muscle and joint pain, and a weakened immune system leading us to catch viruses such as colds or flu. Emotional symptoms are often irritability, lack of focus and concentration, withdrawal from friends and family, anxiety, or low mood. Behaviours related to stress can include excessive alcohol intake, smoking, gambling, shopping more than usual, and dietary changes such as over or under-eating. If you do notice any of these signs or symptoms of stress then it can help to seek professional support from your doctor alongside using the self-help techniques explored below.

Five CBT Stress-Busting Tips For Spring

CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) works by helping us to understand the links between our thoughts, behaviours and feelings. For example, if we think of a meeting with our boss as overwhelming then we’re likely to feel stressed about it and engage in unhelpful behaviours such as not sleeping the night before. However, if we see the meeting as a challenge we can rise to rather than as overwhelming then we may feel more relaxed, sleep better and perform better. The situation is the same, but our thoughts about it are different and have different outcomes for us. Here are some CBT tips to help you to spring-clean your mind this season and to support you to manage stress differently:

1. Focus On Behavioural Changes

Sometimes unhelpful behaviours can cause or prolong our stress. For instance, perhaps you find yourself putting things off until the last minute? Or maybe you feel too busy to exercise, see friends and family, sleep well or relax? Take some time to identify what you find stressful in your life.  Then consider the techniques you may already have access to that can help you to manage stress. Planning a realistic work schedule that includes breaks, time to eat healthily, sleep, exercise and relax can be the first step to managing the stress in our lives.

2. Learn Relaxation Techniques

When we experience chronic stress our nervous system may feel constantly activated.  For example, with shallow breathing, a fast heart rate or high blood pressure. This can create a vicious cycle and make it difficult for us to get out of the stress response. Regular relaxation can help our nervous system to calm down.  Feeling calmer can then interrupt chronic stress, and lead us to be more resilient to stress in the long term. Progressive muscle relaxation is a strategy that involves gently clenching and then relaxing different muscle groups throughout the body.  Breathing techniques can include breathing slowly in and out for 30 seconds.  These strategies can be performed regularly to train our bodies and minds to be in a more peaceful state. Try to practice relaxation techniques as often as possible to get the most benefit.

3. Reframe Your Thoughts

Take some time to pay attention to your thoughts. Do you find you’re often thinking about the worst case scenario? Or telling yourself that you can’t do something? Perhaps you tend to minimise your achievements whilst focusing on the things you feel went wrong? The way we think about a situation can impact on how stressful we find it. For example, if you tell yourself that if you can’t make the deadline at work you’ll lose your job then you’re more likely to find it stressful. However, if you remind yourself that if you can’t make your deadline you can talk with your boss and ask for support then the situation seems much more manageable. When you notice yourself thinking about something in an unhelpful way, see if you can take a step back from the situation and reframe the thought to something that’s more realistic or helpful.

4. Remind Yourself Of What You Can Control

We often find ourselves feeling stressed because we’re focusing on things that are outside of our control. For instance, it might be that we’re not sure what question to expect on an exam paper or we’re anxious about how a meeting at work will go. Switch your thoughts around by focusing on what you can control about the situation instead. For example, you may not be able to control which questions come up in your next exam. However, you can control your revision schedule and how prepared you are. By focusing on what you can control instead of what you can’t control you might find you feel less helpless in the situation than you previously thought.

5. Journal Your Thoughts

Spending time at the beginning or end of each day, or as often as possible,  journaling our thoughts and feelings can help us to better understand ourselves and our moods. A helpful journal often includes the date and time of the thought, feeling or behaviour, the situation in which it occurred, and the reactions that we had to it. Over time, journaling in this way can help us to build up a better picture of ourselves. It can help us to identify and change negative thoughts and behaviours. This can then increase our resilience to stressful situations. Journaling is also a helpful and calming self-care practice to do whether or not we’re experiencing stress.

How Can Online-Therapy.com Help Your Stress-Busting?

If you’d like to explore your relationship with stress further then Online-Theray.com can help. By signing up with our program you can chose a therapist who will work with you to develop a personalised toolkit to support you with understanding and managing stress and the many health and wellbeing benefits that this can bring to your life. You can choose to have your therapy sessions by video, phone or text chat (couple counselling will be video only), making Online-Therapy.com a flexible and convenient option.

At Online-Therapy.com we offer an integrated and holistic package to enable you to feel at your best. Our approach includes regular sessions with your chosen therapist, unlimited messaging and CBT worksheet support, journaling and yoga. This ongoing support means that you have the daily expert guidance you need to make progress with changing how you respond to stress and to start improving your well-being as soon as you sign up.