Go by the premise that stress is relative, i.e., bear in mind that what is stressful to one person need not be stressful to another. The purpose of the exercise in this article is to identify individual specific stressors so that each individual can evolve customized coping strategies. Eventually you can find out just how stressed you really are. Go for it! If you would like to learn more about stress management have a look here.
Stress generally manifests in symptoms like:
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Difficulty in getting to sleep
- Overeating and/or loss of appetite
- Muscle aches and pains
- Quickened heart beat
- Sinking feeling in heart
- Increased consumption of alcohol, smoking and substance abuse
- Panic attacks
- Anger, impatience, moodiness
- Memory lapses and lapse of concentration
This list is not exhaustive and only indicative. Often we may be experiencing this day in and day out and assume that it is normal. Similar situations may not evoke similar reactions or feelings in another person. Stress is both people specific and cumulative. It is often one incident after another that piles up and it takes just one more small event to burst the floodgates and be the last straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back.
When does annoyance turn into stress?
Activities or events that do not agree with our conditioning generally create a psychological dissonance and generate annoyance. If as individuals we do not take stock of these annoyances and realign our conditioning or lifestyles either to altogether avoid the dissonance or accept it for want of a better alternative, we are leaving ourselves vulnerable to annoyances escalating into stressors.
How to identify typical situations that cause stress?
Journaling is a useful practice for identifying typical situations or events that throw us out of kilter.
Go out and buy yourself a pocket diary. Plan to journalize your entire life for a month. Write down incidents as they occur and take care to record date and time of occurrence. Record them in sequential order. For each event recoded, indicate the level of dissonance you are experiencing.
This could be on the following five point scale:
1. No stress at all
2. Starting to feel upset -rapid breathing or sweating starts
3. Starting to feel annoyed, anxious or angry
4. Moderate stress
5. Extremely stressed (feel teeth gnashing, abusive, violent feelings, fists clenched)
The top three, i.e., those scoring between 3 and 5 on the scale, would be the set of situations that burn the individual out.
Over a week and then over a month, certain patterns will begin to emerge. As an individual, each one of us will be able to identify our top-most stressors.
If we look at exemplary events that can cause stress between levels of 3 and 5, we observe:
1. Unscheduled dropping of children to work – uncomfortable with sudden changes in routine
2. Traffic causing me to be late and the aftermath in office
Based on the above, the individual can initiate steps to eliminate the stressors from his or her life. Some of the causal factors would probably be beyond the individual’s control, while others definitely can be addressed and eliminated to improve quality of life.
How to confront the stressors
Now both the aforementioned stressors are conditions that are beyond your power to control. However there is a way to address the first stressor. Before sleeping the previous night the individual can recheck to ascertain the alarm is in active mode. If he had woken up in time, he would have realized the children were oversleeping and could have woken them. Alternatively accept and embrace the change in schedule as a temporary disturbance variable so long as it is not a regular feature of your home life.
Regarding the second stressor of traffic, if this is a regular feature, the best coping strategy would be to first acknowledge the fact. Then creatively visualize workarounds. One of the options is to convert the back seat of the car into a mobile office. Get yourself a chauffeur to drive and enable Wi-Fi enable in the car cabin. You can then take all calls and video conferences while being stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. When there is no immediately pending work, you can gainfully utilize the time for either listening to soothing music or meditation.
There is much more you can learn about stress and how to fight it. You can acquire more stress knowledge by reading the free eBook “Finding a Panacea for Stress – Move from Distress to De-stress” written by Shiv Dhawan Ph.D.