How to manage stress before it kills you

Hello, so today is my a cool day for me- Apr 22, my website is officially a year old. I am very happy with that, but huge plans for the year ahead, big progressive changes, really innovative ideas going into action.

The last year has been very good. Over 220 blog entries, about 200 wriitten by me and then very special guests, maybe 20.

I also went into Twitter this morning to get an alert I had hit 10,000 followers. Very cool coincidence. This is great, as I am not receptive of trolls and they fill my blocked list!

I have a big announcement May 2. That’s not long, so (in the interim) enjoy some of my friends who are guest bloggers. Today Sam Davies, Sam is one and particularly awesome with an MA in Counselling and just did a Ted Talk.

@PsycMinded is her Twitter
Strongly recommended.

Website is het website

Highly recommended

Over to Sam to give you relief from Stress. I think we can all get something from Sam’s expertise. I cannot speak highly enough of Sam.

I attempt to discuss the topic of stress management with an emphasis on working within the field of counselling. Over the next few pages I will explain the physiological, behavioural and cognitive effects of stress on the human and will take a look at the relationship between stress and personality- this will incorporate the work of Holmes and Rahe. I will also look into stress within the workplace, in particular causes of stress within organisations, and will take a look at two distinctive stress models (Karasek and Steven Palmer). I will conclude with up to date and relevant ways one can manage their stress levels and cope with the causes of stress in everyday life.

The terms ‘stress’ is something we have all heard at one point or another, we are late for work and so we are stressed, we have an interview and so we are stressed. Stress seems to be in the lives of many, but what do we know about stress? What is it and how is it caused? Only by understanding these questions can we start to work towards ‘stress management’. In a medical or biological context stress is a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stresses can be external (from the environment, psychological, or social situations) or internal (illness, or from a medical procedure). Stress can initiate the “fight or flight” response, a complex reaction of neurologic and endocrinologic systems within each of us.
Stress is your body’s way of responding to the world and environment we live in. It can be caused by both good and bad experiences. When people feel stressed by something going on around them, their bodies react by releasing chemicals into the blood. These chemicals give people more energy and strength, which can be a good thing if their stress is caused by physical danger. But this can also be a bad thing, if their stress is in response to something emotional and there is no outlet for this extra energy and strength. Stress can affect all aspects of your life, including your emotions, behaviour, thinking ability and physical health. No part of the body is immune, but, because people handle stress differently, symptoms of stress can vary from one person to another. Symptoms can be vague and may be the same as those caused by medical conditions
Stress can have a detrimental effect on our physiological make up, and as our body attempts to deal with the feelings of stress, different parts will be effected in different ways.

Many of the physiological symptoms of stress can be easily spotted when one knows what to look out for. Other effects include: headaches, sweating, sexual problems, dry mouth, feeling dizzy, bladder problems, tingling in the body, tiredness and many more depending on the severity of the stress felt.

Stress also has a great impact on our thoughts and emotions, and this has a roll over effect on the way we behave. For example, the college at work who is usually happy and relaxed may be snapping and aggressive- this may be a sign of stress. A person who is feeling stressed, may also suffer from emotions that appear to be uncalled for or ‘out of the blue’ these emotions can include strong feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. They may feel angry irritable and agitated, but in sharp contrast, a person may in fact feel emotional, sad, low, depressed, un-motivated and unresponsive.
With this in mind it is no surprise that with the physical and emotional changes going on due to stress on the body and mind, it goes without saying that ones behaviour will most certainly be effected. Our behaviour is strongly impacted by our feelings and our bodies ability to perform. A person who is feeling high levels of stress, may experience the following behavioural effects;

•​Low libido
•​Sleeping too much
•​Change in appetite
•​Smoking increasing
•​Increase alcohol consumption
•​Temper outbursts
•​Outbursts of tearfulness
•​Rushing around
•​Increased speech

In order to best understand which method of stress management works for each individual on a person centred level, it is wise to look at individual risk factors associated with stress in the first place. Different people will be effected by stress differently, some may find what effects them, may not have the same impact on their peers, and visa versa. Studies have shown a strong link between personality type and risk of stress. In other words, researchers believe that certain people are more likely, and more at risk to stress than others. Type ‘A’ personalities are more likely to feel stress than Type ‘B’ personalities. This is because type B people tend to be more calm and unhurried, they tend to express their feeling more easily and tend to not take work related problems home with them. They also tend to have a more active social life and are non-competitive. Type A people however, tend to be very competitive, always busy, have a poor work-life balance and tend to take work home with them and work more hours than they should. All of these behaviours and attitudes mean they are far more likely to be frustrated with workload, lateness, deadlines and failures, thus making them more at risk of feeling pressure and stress.

We have looked at what stress is, and how it has an effect on out body, mind and behaviour. But what causes stress? And is everyone effected in the same way? Holmes and Rahe (1967) examined the medical records of 5,000 individuals who were suffering from health issues. Their research suggested that life events both good and bad have a strong impact on our stress levels, and that in turn can dramatically effect health and wellbeing. They developed the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, which lists live events known to trigger stress, and then scores stress risk associated with each life event. Below is an extract from the Stress Scale;

•​Death: of spouse, family, friend
•​Health: injury, illness, pregnancy
•​Crime: Sexual molestation, mugging, burglary, pick-pocketed
•​Self-abuse: drug abuse, alcoholism, self-harm
•​Family change: separation, divorce, new baby, marriage
•​Sexual problems: getting partner, with partner
•​Argument: with spouse, family, friends, co-workers, boss
•​Physical changes: lack of sleep, new work hours
•​New location: vacation, moving house
•​Money: lack of it, owing it, investing it
•​Environment change: in school, job, house, town, jail
•​Responsibility increase: new dependent, new job

We spend the majority of our lives at work, and as life becomes evermore challenging and fast paced, it is no surprise that work related stress is becoming a worrying issue for employers and organisations who, have to deal with the cost of staff sickness and absence from work due to stress and stress related illness.

According to the Research of Stephen Palmer (2004), there are six factors at work that influence stress levels of employees;

1.​The demands of the job
2.​The control staff have over how they do their work
3.​The support they receive from colleagues and superiors
4.​Their relationships with colleagues
5.​Whether they understand their roles and responsibilities
6.​How far the company consults staff over workplace changes.

These factors can have a drastic effect on staff absence, staff sickness, staff turnover, bullying, pressure at work, divorce, poor performance, and workplace accidents and near misses. (Beehr and Newman (1978) identified more than 150 variables involved in stress).

Another model of stress in the workplace comes from Karasek, The Demands-Control model (Karasek 1979) is currently perhaps the most influential model of stress in the workplace which focuses on the two psychosocial job characteristics of job demands and job control. The latter factor is sometimes called decision latitude and is made up of the sub-factors of decision authority or control over work situation and skill discretion (possibility of using learnt skills and competencies). Karasek’s (1979) research showed that those exposed to high levels of demand, as well as having low levels of job control were more likely to show increased levels of depression, tiredness and heart problems. However, the lowest levels of illness were in individuals with moderate or even high demands, if they also had high levels of job control (challenge situation). Karasek proposed an interaction where high demands and low control would predict high strain, but that high control would buffer the negative effect of demands on outcomes.

Stress costs the NHS, tax payers and organisations billions of pounds every year, it is a growing concern in modern society and as such, much research has been conducted on ways to avoid and manage stress. There are healthy and unhealthy ways of dealing with stress.

Unhealthy stress management:
•​Drinking too much
•​Overeating or undereating
•​Withdrawing from friends, family, and activities
•​Using pills or drugs to relax
•​Sleeping too much
•​Filling up every minute of the day to avoid facing problems
•​Taking out your stress on others (lashing out, angry outbursts, physical violence)

Healthy methods of stress management:
o​Mindfulness and Meditation for just a few minutes a day can help ease anxiety and decrease feeling of stress.
•​Deep breathing
o​Deep breathing counters the effects of stress by slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure
•​Slow down
o​Take 5 minutes and focus on only one behaviour with awareness, Notice how the air feels on your face and enjoy the texture and taste of each bite of food, when you spend time in the moment and focus on your senses, you should feel less tense.
•​Seek advice from peers
o​Your social network is one of your best tools for handling stress. Talk to others. Share what’s going on. You can get a fresh perspective while keeping your connection strong.
•​Be active
•​If you have a stress-related problem, physical activity can get you in the right state of mind to be able to identify the causes of your stress and find a solution. Gentle activity can help in clearing your thoughts and enabling you to deal with your problems more calmly.
•​Setting yourself goals and challenges:
o​whether at work or outside, such as learning a new language or a new sport, helps to build confidence. That in turn will help you deal with stress.
•​Muscle relaxation
o​Practicing muscle relaxation therapy whilst focusing on deep breathing can help calm the body and the mind. It allows for focus and a new sense of control which in turn will help minimise feelings of anxiety and helplessness.
o​A healthy balanced diet will give your body the energy and strength it needs to fight of any illness that may come along due to the immune system being lowered due to stress
•​Say no
o​Be aware of your limits and don’t take on more than you can handle. Saying no is a healthy way of taking care of yourself.

In a world where we often feel like there aren’t enough hors in the day, where time seems to rush past us within the blink of an eye- we are becoming more and more aware of how the environment both internally and externally is having an effect on our lives. We have discussed what stress is, and how it can affect the body, brain, mind, behaviour and emotions of a sufferer, and have taken into account the fact that different life events will have different effects on our stress levels depending on our coping methods, life experience and personality type. We have also gained an understanding of different stress models, and focused in more detail on work related stress and how this can be minimised and managed. Overall stress is something that each and every one of us will experience at one or more point in our lives. Learning to manage our stress, and speaking out when we feel unable to cope will allow us a far better quality of life, and will help us stay healthy happy and in control. With much more research going on into the causes and effects of stress, and how to deal with factors associated with stress, one day, we hope to life in a place where we each get the treatment and support we need.

Cooper, Dewe, & O’Driscoll, 2001; Karasek & Theorell, 1990; Lim, 1996
Karasek, R. A. (1979). Job demands, job decision latitude, and mental strain: Implications for job redesign. Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 24, pp. 285-308. 1 Palmer S, Cooper C, Thomas K. Creating a balance: managing stress. 2003: London; British Library.
2 Palmer S, Cooper C, Thomas K. Revised model of organisational stress for use within stress prevention/management and wellbeing programmes – brief update. International Journal of Health Promotion and Education. 2003;41(2):57-8.