Our lives are so busy nowadays that they have become too stressful, both at home and at work, or so people tell me. Just the other day I read that 4 out of 10 workers in our health service feel ‘stressed’. Apart from increasing demand, the reason is often the reduction in workers, leaving fewer people to take on too much work.
Outside work we tend to worry about our family, our health, our finances, the economy, terrorism, or climate change, to name but a few concerns. A new phenomenon is the so-called ‘sandwich-generation’, where parents not only look after their (sometimes adult) children but also their elderly parents.
A little word, ‘stress’ but a BIG problem for many people. Where does it come from that word? I think it originated in the field of structural engineering where it stood for the different forces impinging on a structure (hence the expression ‘stress-testing’).
Imagine you are building a bridge over a river. What materials you’ll use depends on many factors, for example: how long does it need to be; how much traffic does it need to be able cope with; what are local weather conditions like; is the area prone to Earth tremors; etc. Time-span is another factor. Wood may rot after a number of years; steel may rust; concrete crack and stone might crumble.
Why do I mention all this, after all I’m not an Engineer? My point is that the survival of a structure is an interaction of its design, its structural materials and various outside factors. The same goes for us when it concerns stress. Our ‘design’ is our personality make-up, our material is our biological ‘structure’ (body), outside forces are those of our domestic, social, occupational and societal pressures.
This mix of factors explains why people vary so much in their ability to cope with pressure and also make it hard sometimes to figure out what are the causes of someone’s stressed condition. It also means that there are many ways in which stress can be tackled and lessened or resolved.
A typical example could be people with a Phobia of small enclosed spaces, for example Elevators. If they lived and worked in a rural area without high-rise buildings for example they wouldn’t have much of a problem. But if they took on a job that required them to work at the top of a Skyscraper in Manhattan their daily stress levels would no doubt increase.
It can be hard to self-diagnose stress sometimes because pressures often gradually build up and people may not ask for help until they suffer a ‘breakdown’. When I was younger I suffered from depression but I didn’t realize that and therefore didn’t ask for help, until a friend suggested it.
The challenge therefore is to become aware that we suffer from stress, before we can do anything about resolving the problem. What makes that easier is the common symptoms we may all display, such as: irritability, forgetfulness, head aches, back pain, sleep problems, anxiety, feeling disorganized, leaving work unfinished, relying on stimulants to cope, etc.
Our first task therefore is to take time out for ourselves and take stock! We can’t solve a problem if we are not aware of its existence or its nature. If you don’t feel you have the time to do this than you are probably suffering from stress…