Muriel Cooper
Psychologist in Mornington

Stress, anxiety and depression

 

This is not a list of stress management techniques (you'll find that here), this is about how to plan a strategy to manage your stress and how to implement it.

Having a strategy means more than meditating or doing a relaxation exercise. It sets out your intentions – what you intend to do about your stress, including some of the things on those lists of techniques.

When you are stressed, your ability to think, remember, make decisions and concentrate are compromised, so having a plan keeps you on track.

Step 1. Identify your stressors and their effects

What triggers off your stress reaction?

Once you single your triggers out then you can come up with a strategy to deal with them. You'll find many other articles about stress, anxiety and depression here, and you might find something that helps your specific stressor, for example, dealing with stress at work, or teenagers.

Some personality types or 'dispositions' may find they get stressed for no apparent reason. This does not mean you don't have a strategy. Your strategy might be for general stress reduction and again, having a plan is important.

What are the effects of the stressors?

Check the:

  • Physical symptoms of stress; you can find some of them here. Increased heartbeat or palpitations, tension headaches and other ache and pains, lack of ability to concentrate, sweating?
  • The emotional symptoms, including being over-emotional, irritable and angry, tearful or afraid.
  • The psychological symptoms, such as wanting to avoid the stressor, intrusive thoughts and worries.
  • The social symptoms, like your relationships with partners and family and your social life.

Your plan should include specific strategies to deal with these factors.

Step 2. Plan your strategies: practical, emotional, financial and psychological

The brain loves a plan. Once you have decided on a plan and strategies to deal with the stressful person or situation, your will feel more enabled and empowered to deal with the situation and you will be less bothered by negative, worrying thoughts. If you don't do anything about your stress, your brain will hassle you. If you try to block it out, your brain will hassle you. Take action!

Don't put too many things in your strategy. Stick to three or four things. This makes it easier to remember and stick to.

Step 3. Put the plan into practice

This might sound simplistic, but if you identify your stressors (or that you are just plain stressed), plan a strategy and then don't do it, nothing will change. You'll still be stressed. You need to put your plan into action.

That can be hard to do. Any habit takes a while to change, although some relaxation and breathing exercises may give you immediate relief.

Implementing your stress management plan is a bit like giving up smoking or going on a diet. You need to persist and be patient.

Step 4. Be prepared for your life to change

If you address your stress and make the necessary changes to your thoughts, attitudes and behaviours, it will mean change. This is why we often don't take action, because unconsciously we don't like change – 'better the devil you know than the devil you don't know'. It might mean an added stressor (change) for a little while until you adjust. The positive change you'll achieve is worth it in the end.

It might mean changes to your relationships as you become more assertive and stand up to your boss or your partner. This might involve leaning new ways of communicating and being assertive and often that takes courage.

If you do everything you can to reduce your stress and 'pain persists', it might mean letting go of that person or that job. It might even mean adjusting your personality a little if you are a 'driven' person who can't slow down.

It might take a while, but if you believe in your plan, keep on track and stick with your strategy, you can succeed.

Example stress management scenario

Meet Rick. Rick works in finance and his immediate superior expects him to work very long hours. This means skipped meals, no breaks and insufficient time with his family. Rick is becoming increasingly stressed and anxious as he attends endless unproductive meetings with his boss and is scrutinised if he leaves work on time (because his boss works the same ridiculous hours, even though everyone else has left the building).

Rick's triggers are:

  • Fear of conflict
  • Fear of losing his job and His boss's unrealistic expectations and measuring input (hours worked) rather than output (a productive result)
  • No time with family so he dreads both going to work and also coming home

His symptoms are:

  • Worry, anxiety and fear
  • Tension and physical problems
  • Relationship problems

Rick makes a plan to address four stress factors he has identified:

  1. Fear of conflict. Rick decides to consult someone on how to deal with conflict and how to communicate more assertively. He does this and practises until he is confident.
  2. Fear of losing his job. Rick decides to 'know his rights'. He has his contract and position description reviewed by a solicitor friend to see what it says about how many hours he is actually contracted to work and what his role actually is. When he has done this he undertakes to civilly inform his immediate superior that he will only be working those hours. He even proposes that he will work from home one day a week. If his employer threatens him, Rick knows he can contact Fair Work Australia to act on his behalf. He informs his superior he will be working towards outcomes and not how many hours he spends at work. He also does a financial audit to see whether he can take time off work or look for another position if all else fails. He can also consider going to HR since it is only his immediate superior that is the problem and not the whole workplace culture. And finally, he also works on not catastrophising about the future, but visualising a positive outcome.
  3. Tension, anxiety and physical symptoms. While he is working on his conflict skills and knowing his rights, Rick works hard on slowing down, breathing and using other stress management and worry control techniques. Rick has consulted a professional, or maybe he adopts some of my suggestions or practices from other sources. He also makes an appointment with his GP to make sure the physical symptoms of stress are not causing significant health problems.
  4. Poor relationships. Rick consults with his partner and children about improving their relationship and sets time aside each week for 'me' time, couple and family time.

All this requires Rick to invest time, energy and money into overcoming his stressful situation. There is no magic bullet, but he accepts that and he undertakes to work hard on his plan and be diligent in implementing his strategies.

After implementing his plan over a period of a month or so, Rick sorted out his work situation and worked less hours, he was able to cope much better with stress and he improved his relationships with his partner and children.

Again the four steps outlined above to overcome stress are:

  • Identify triggers and their effects or symptoms
  • Plan your practical, emotional, financial and psychological strategies
  • Put the plan into action and stick to it
  • Be prepared for your life to change

If you really aren't coping and the idea of doing all of the above seems overwhelming to you, seek professional help, or you can always call these numbers:

Lifeline Australia - 13 11 14
Mensline Australia - 1300 78 99 78
Beyondblue - 1300 224 636
Suicideline Victoria - 1300 651 251
Suicide Call Back Service - 1300 659 467
Kids Helpline - 1800 551 800
Griefline Community and Family Services - 1300 845 745

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