This article looks at a tool to help you minimise the harm that stress can cause. Stress causes all sorts of problems for people in a whole variety of different ways. It affects people’s health and relationships, their ability to do their job, it impacts on the home and the workplace. The impact of stress is extremely far-reaching.

Put simply, the part of our brain which responds to stressful situations is known as the ‘primitive brain’. When we are feeling stressed, our primitive brain kicks in so we are more reactive. At the same time, the rational part of our brain effectively switches off. This rational part is important because it is involved in executive functioning. E.G. working memory, flexible thinking, decision making and emotional regulation/self-control. So, when we are stressed, we are more likely to react to things with emotion rather than rational thinking and many of the decisions we subsequently make, result in things getting worse. If we don’t stop to reflect, we can end up making a series of bad decisions and sliding into a crisis situation.

If we check in on ourselves regularly, we are less likely to end up in a crisis situation. I suggest putting a slot in your diary, on a regular basis, perhaps an hour every month. Call this slot your ‘stress self-check-in time’. The rest of this article will provide a framework you can use to check-in on yourself.

The framework revolves around asking yourself 3 questions :-

Question 1: What are your current stressors?

Stressors are those things that are making us feel stressed. They are usually issues making us feel overly anxious or worried, under too much pressure or both. Please make a list of your stressors.

Question 2: Do you have any unhealthy coping behaviours/stress relievers?

These are the things we reach for as a quick fix because they make us feel better quickly. Some give us an immediately enjoyable experience, others help us escape from unpleasant feelings. Examples include smoking, drinking caffeine, comfort eating on sugary/fatty foods, drinking alcohol, buying things, spending time on social media and gambling.

Make a note of any unhealthy coping behaviours you have. Ask yourself whether they need moderating.

Question 3: Do you have any symptoms of stress?

The symptoms of stress are many and varied. You can find plenty of information online but here are some examples. Stress affects our mind and the way we think, often leading to anxious and negative thinking patterns. Stress affects our body, giving rise to a whole variety of physical symptoms. These include migraines, tension headaches, cold-sores, neck tightness, panic attacks, indigestion, reflux, irritable bowel syndrome. (Please note that stress is not the only cause of these symptoms. They might need investigating before assuming stress is the cause). Stress also affects how we feel leading to us feeling emotional, angry, irritable and emotionally drained.

Make a list of any symptoms you have that you recognise are caused by stress.

Now, let’s think about healthy coping strategies to help you get back on track.

Dealing with stressors

The tool I recommend for helping you to deal with your stressors is the Serenity Prayer: ‘Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference’. It is telling us to focus our energies on the things we can control or influence.

Action: Look at your list of stressors, circle the ones you are in a position to do something about. Make a plan of action.

Dealing with unhealthy coping behaviours

My advice regarding these is this: Let your unhealthy stress relievers be a TREAT, not a treatment for underlying issues needing attention.

Action: If you feel you are relying too heavily on these behaviours, ask yourself why you are reaching for them. What need are they fulfilling? Try to find a healthier way to approach this need.

Dealing with symptoms of stress

This is about nurturing your mental, physical and emotional health. A few top tips!

Mental health: Mindfulness tools are a very good way to help you calm your mind. Look online to find some that suit you. Having an ‘attitude of gratitude’ helps to create a more positive mindset. Look for the positives in your day.

Physical health: Breathing exercises are very useful in helping you feel calmer. Good ones to read up about include 6-8 breathing, Diaphragmatic Breathing and Box Breathing. Movement and exercise are also very important. Get up often and move around, moving all your limbs and your neck. Finding a form of physical exercise you enjoy can help you feel better mentally and physically.

Emotional health: Incorporate things you enjoy into your day. Things that help you feel topped up and which give you joy. Remember nature is free and can be amazing at alleviating stress and tension.

STAN: If you are struggling, this acronym can help you. S for spending time with people who make you feel good about yourself. T for talking to someone. A for asking for help. N for learning to say ‘no’.

Using the stress self-check-in tool

The aim of this article is to give you a tool you can use to help you minimise the harm that stress can cause. For it to be most effective, you will probably need to read up on a few things to help you decide what tools are best suited to you. If you check-in on yourself on a regular basis you can make changes to get you back on track. Regular re-setting in this way will help you minimise the harm that stress can cause to your health and your life.

You can find more information in my little book, which is available on Amazon. If you think you could benefit from some sessions with me, please book a free discovery call for a chat or go to my contact page.