20 years ago I gave up my scientific research work to retrain as a stress management practitioner and psychotherapist. I discovered the word stress is used in many different ways, some people think it is the cause of ill health whilst others think it is the outcome and some people use the word to mean both! Confusing!!
I’d like to clear up that confusion for you today.
Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure (real or perceived), resulting in ill health. We all need a certain amount of pressure to function well, as the right amount of pressure helps us to reach our peak efficiency. Research shows that the right amount of pressure can increase our drive to meet deadlines and get things done.
Each individual reacts differently to pressure, so what is right for one person, could be too much for another. When pressure becomes too intense and prolonged, this can lead to stress which is ill health of body and/or mind. Symptoms of stress are widespread from serious physical ill health like stroke, heart attack, Irritable Bowel Disease (IBS), myalgia, headaches and asthma to psychological distress like anxiety, depression, compulsive behaviours and becoming withdrawn.
Excessive pressure, whether real or imagined, can have a profound effect on your thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Your body perceives you are under threat and initiates the Fight or Flight Response, resulting in heightened awareness, increased body chemicals – all designed to help you fight the threat or run away from it. This Stone Age response was fine for dealing with rampaging animals or marauding people, intent on taking over your ‘patch’ but today our threats are different. We may still feel threatened by others, but it is seldom life threatening.
You may, however, feel out of control, threatened (not necessarily physically) and unable to cope. This can lead to feeling irritable or constantly worrying about situations and can even affect your self-esteem. Too much pressure can come from any area of life, including work, home, relationships, financial, ecological or international worries.
In summary: the right amount of pressure makes you feel great and the perception of too much pressure, can make you physically and psychologically unwell which are the symptoms of stress.
In summary: perceived pressures are the cause of adverse physical and/or psychological reactions (stress)
The good news is that there are many techniques you can learn to deal with stress, which put you back in the driving seat of your life. Many of you will do these naturally. You will assess where your pressures are coming from and choose to make changes in your life or your thinking, to alleviate the pressure. Others can get help from their Doctor or a Therapist who will assess their need and discuss appropriate techniques to restore a balanced, happy life.
The UK Office of National Statistics tell us that the average life satisfaction and happiness ratings for the year ending March 2017 are at the highest levels since 2011 when measurements started.
This is quite surprising when you consider the amount of uncertainty in the UK and the world today – Brexit, a recent General election – both resulting in a small majority, the UK economy, hurricanes, North Korea and America to mention a few, but if we believe as a nation, we are happier, hopefully it means we are less stressed which will be good for our physical and mental health. I really hope this suggests we are developing coping strategies to relieve tension and worry which will allow us to enjoy life at many levels.