THE signs are small at first.
An increase in muscle tension, upset stomach, loss of appetite or maybe you are a little more irritable. Perhaps you find yourself losing concentration or you are drinking alcohol more than usual.
You go about your business, not taking much notice of what your body is whispering to you, until one day, you get the equivalent of a big slap in the face.
Perhaps it is a chest infection that lingers for months, overwhelming anxiety that stops you from wanting to see friends or for some, a nasty medical diagnosis from the doctor.
It affects how you feel, how you think and how you behave. It also affects your health and pretty much, if you are not managing it well, can affect everything else in your life.
Your body is telling you things all the time, and often we are too busy to even notice. It is not until it starts impacting us too much that we start to get inconvenienced by it. Something has got to give.
It could be your health, relationship, work, or life itself seems not to be enjoyable anymore.
Stress is a natural response to life pressures and dangerous situations. The pressure can come from what’s happening around us, but also from the overwhelming demands we often place on ourselves. In other words, sometime it is our environment, and, often it’s our own choices in life that have created stress.
A mix of things we sometimes can’t do anything about, and some we can. We have an amazing brain and body that are built to cope with stress. What else could automatically whip us away from chasing predators in the past but our efficient stress response? The same physiological response happens to us on a daily basis now, when we get massive bills, get stuck in traffic, have a crappy day at work or if someone peeves us off.
But here’s the thing. We are not built for chronic stress. We are not made for feeling stressed all the time. We are built for more “over and done with” type stress. Like either fighting the stressor or fleeing from it up a tree until it goes away.
Either way, once we have sorted the stress out, we can get back to homeostasis and get on with our day. Our stressors aren’t like predators anymore, many people have lots of them, and many tend to linger.
Chronic stress ends up wearing people away day after day, month after month, year after year.
As much as we try, we are not going to get rid of stress completely. The only way to be stress free would be to live alone on a tropical island. But even that would be a stress in itself (limited clothes, only coconuts to eat, no friends etc.). So it is a waste of time wishing and waiting for ‘no stress’.
Stress is part of being alive. In fact without feeling stressed now and again, we would be so carefree and blasé about everything that we would have been killed off years ago. So, be grateful for your stress, it has got you this far. It has kept you alert and given you the energy to meet the more difficult life challenges you have faced.
Start recognising if you have any symptoms of stress. These are the little signals your brain and body give you to warn you of overwhelm. Look at some of the stressors around you, and notice which ones you are in control of, and start tackling those slowly.
The rest of the stressors that won’t go away? Well, this is where resilience needs to kick in. A little harder, yes, but doable, with the right life ingredients in place and with the right help.
Sometimes stress won’t go away, so you are going to get more mileage out of learning how to manage it now, before your brain and body starts letting you know about it later (remember the slap I mentioned?).
The positive take on this is that stress can be managed, so the earlier you start to do it, the better you are going to be. Once you get it sorted, you will be able to tackle anything that life throws at you.