I hope last week’s blog on ‘good stress’ gave you a slightly different perspective on how we can use stress to our advantage and not immediately see it as a problem to fix?
A number of people reached out to share how reframing stress to ‘tension’ really helped them shift their mindset, which is great to know and that what it’s all about!
This week I’m looking at when stress can be more of a bad thing.
I’ve written a number of blogs in the past on the negative effects of stress and even how to identify the type of stress you’re going through – i.e. acute stress, episodic acute stress, and chronic stress. You can read more about that here if you’d like to remind yourself of the details: American Psychological Association (APA)
You also have to consider the occurrence, for example is or was the stress a singular episode, is it repeated, is it complicated (i.e. PTSD or CPTSD) or is it chronic – i.e. constant.
According to Dr. Karl Albrecht, a pioneer in the world of stress reduction for businesspeople, you can define common stressors in to four basic ‘types’:
- Time stress – this is when you worry about getting somewhere on time or being late. When you stress about running out of time, this could be for a project or even just when thinking about your life and what you want to accomplish. You worry about all the things you have to do ‘in such little time’ etc.
When experiencing ‘time stress’ you can feel unhappy, there could be a feeling of being trapped and you may even feel hopeless.
So, what can we do to alleviate time stress? Well much of it, as you can imagine, comes down to time management and the ability to prioritise effectively, which may also include being good at saying no! Other than that, bigger picture you can practice being more present and mindful with practices such as meditation and mindfulness and work on cognitive behavioural therapy techniques such as learning how not to catastrophise and ruminate.
- Anticipatory Stress – This could be stressing about a specific event coming up in the future, such as a presentation, interview or test. However, it could also be something you don’t know will happen for definite, but you worry it might happen; for example, if you have financial worries or if you are worried about potential redundancies at work, or lack of clients etc. Hypochondria and health worries/predictions also fall into this category. Lastly, it could even be quite vague, such as a general feeling of worry about the future and that something might ‘go wrong’.
With this kind of stress, you feel nervous, anxious, on edge, the worries could be plaguing your thoughts and even keeping you up at night or when you first wake up you feel a sense of panic or doom.
Obviously, depending on what the thing is you’re worrying about, if it’s a test for example then the stress should disappear after the event. But if there is no event and you’re relying on your perception or your imagination, you can see how this will lead to chronic stress until the real or perceived issue is resolved.
The good news is, that in knowing the event will be over soon you can use tools and techniques in the mean-time to calm yourself down – perhaps you need to spend some time preparing more for the event, so you feel more confident.
Or if the worry of concern is of the vague kind, you can also use similar tools and techniques such as imagining your most positive future outcome, basically train yourself to counter your worst-case scenario thoughts with the best case! Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques can help with this along with visualisation, EFT tapping and guided meditations. When I personally suffer from this kind of stress I use all of the above and they really do help!
- Encounter Stress – This is when you are worried about encountering people. It could be a specific person, a group of people or even just people in general if you have a problem with crowds. Perhaps you don’t like the person/people, or perhaps they intimidate, manipulate or drain you in some way, or it may even be that they feel unsafe.
This kind of stress also often affects people as a part of their job – for example nurses, doctors, social workers etc dealing with people who are unwell or distressed – being around people in distress causing you to feel empathy for what they’re going through.
I myself, as somewhat of an introvert and definitely a sensitive person, can also attest to the fact that sometimes I get stressed when an environment just becomes ‘too much’, especially if I’m already tired. It could be too noisy, too busy, too crowded, too smelly (for example the perfume depts in big stores!) even too hot or cold! It’s like a sensory overload. This could however also fit in the last type of stress, ‘situational’…
To manage encounter stress, it would be ideal to avoid the person, people or environments that cause you the stress if you feel there’s a valid reason. Otherwise it may mean working on interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, boundaries, assertiveness and confidence in yourself. Or lastly, you may just need to recognise when you’re not in the right energy to deal with certain environments and bow out.
- Situational Stress – This is down to a ‘situation’… Which means it comes on suddenly in the moment. You weren’t expecting it and you had no control over it happening. This could be mild, for example if someone pushed past you and it got your back up, or it could be really severe in the case of a serious emergency.
This is actually what our bodily stress response system is designed for; a sudden stress, when the adrenaline and cortisol are released and your body prepares to ‘fight or flight’ – however hopefully in most cases of situational stress you won’t actually be fighting or running, but the point is that your system is built for situational stress.
The only real way to handle situational stress is to be more self-aware, learning skills such as first aid, conflict resolution, negotiation and learning to catch and tune into yourself before you react can all help.
When thinking about Dr. Karl Albrecht’s four types of stress, it is safe to say that chronic stress or recurrent stress would mostly come from ‘time stress’ and ‘anticipatory’ stress.
However, you could have ongoing encounter stress for example when dealing with an abusive person on a regular or consistent basis.
You can also imagine how someone may be facing more than one or all of these types of stressors in a complex situation.
The key here is that in recognising where your stress comes from, you can then come up with some ways to manage that stress. Rather than simply going through life feeling stressed and saying you’re stressed . You need to work out what’s causing it.
It goes without saying that if you feel stressed, anxious, worried, overwhelmed and panicked on a consistent basis then seek help from a medical professional.
One area of stress that isn’t really covered here is post-traumatic stress, this is a really important subject and it’s not just something related to war veterans as often assumed.
Many people are unknowingly suffering in some way with post-traumatic stress, usually due to events that happened in childhood. I will be talking more about this next week, so do look out for that because it’s a really important subject – people’s lives can transform through healing PTSD and Complex PTSD.
I hope this information is helping you get more familiar with any stress that you experience? … Because the more you know about it, the easier it is to manage.