Identifying and reducing stress
“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.” ~ Fred Rogers
Important: health warning If you think you are currently in an emotional crisis you could contact the Samaritans. You can call them free at any time from any phone on 116 123, email firstname.lastname@example.org or you may have a branch near you that you can visit (see samaritans.org/branches).
Identifying the cause of your stress
Whatever event or situation is stressing you, there are ways of coping with the problem and regaining your balance. Sometimes a therapist can help you to identify what is bothering you and help you to regain your life balance. Sometimes simply considering matters yourself in a moment when you are more relaxed will reveal your issues and potential solutions. These are some of the most common sources of stress for you to consider:
Stress at work
While some workplace stress is normal, excessive stress can interfere with your productivity and performance, impact your physical and emotional health, and affect your relationships and home life. It can even mean the difference between success and failure on the job. Think about what you can do to protect yourself from the damaging effects of stress. There might be simple things like wearing headphones to cut out noise, or getting a headset to make phone calls easier, or it could be that you are at a stage where you are ready for a different challenge. If you find yourself stressing about work the day before you are returning then speak with your Human Resources department.
Retirement & unemployment stress
Losing a job is one of life’s most stressful experiences. It’s normal to feel angry, hurt, or depressed, grieve at all that you’ve lost or feel anxious about what the future holds. Losing a job is far more than just losing income. It can be a change of identity and a loss of purpose which can rock your sense of purpose and self-esteem.
While the stress can seem overwhelming, there are many things you can do to come out of this difficult period stronger, more resilient and with a renewed sense of purpose. If your change is due to retirement then try activities that give you a sense of purpose. These could be projects in your home & garden, helping your family, volunteering with a local charity or project or if you have business or other relevant skills offering to be a trustee. Many people who retire can find a renewed sense of purpose and drive and also that they have less free time than when they were working.
The demands of caregiving can be overwhelming, especially if you feel you’re in over your head or have little control over the situation. If the stress of caregiving is left unchecked, it can take a toll on your health, relationships, and state of mind — eventually leading to burnout. There are charities that can offer support and also put you in touch with respite opportunities. Using a suitable device such as the Assure can give you more day to day freedom. knowing the person you care for can alert you if they need to, gives you more time out, perhaps catching up with friends, than if you are constantly worried when you are out on a task.
Grief and loss
Coping with the loss of someone or something you love is one of life’s biggest stressors. The pain and stress can feel overwhelming. Many people experience all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness. There are ways to cope with the pain and emotion of loss. Cruse Bereavement Care has excellent advice and resources for those who are having emotional difficulties due to loss.
This can be caused by having too much as well as too little money and typically results from a lack of financial planning that can lead to debt. It is easy to lose control of your finances and this can lead to stress. Managing your money can be a complicated task so either take the time to learn how to do it or seek expert advice. Most importantly, do not be taken in by any ‘get rich quick’ schemes.
This is a specialised area but many people have suffered from addictions and help is available. The ‘Anonymous’ networks (such as Alcoholics Anonymous) have a tried and tested system or your doctors should be able to point you in the right direction. Mind.org.uk maintain a list of addiction and dependency services which you can visit by clicking www.acticheck.com/dependency
Event/situation based stress
Often people find themselves under stress because of illnesses or conditions they find themselves or loved ones with. Usually there are specialist charities where people understand the stresses related to particular medical conditions or life events. Seek them out and speak with them. They will be able to point you towards resources that others in a similar situation have found helpful both emotionally and for extra costs associated with a condition; and it is good to know there are others in the same boat who are willing to support each other and who understand.
At the moment of a crisis such as a fall or sudden incapacitating pain there will be an adrenaline rush and though the event will have been highly stressful your body has a way of getting you through the immediate aftermath.
More damaging for many is the aftermath of such a situation if they are not found and don’t know how long they will have to wait to be found. Even diligent neighbours have been known to take 4-5 days before looking through windows, such is the British reserve and respect for personal space. The waiting and not knowing whether help will come before your demise can be far more traumatic than the initial shock and many people don’t make it home after this type of experience. 13 people aged over 65 die every day through a fall and there are 600 emergency hospital admissions every day. You can eliminate the trauma of a long wait by making sure you have an alert system to get help in case you need it.
Some people are happy in their own company whilst others with a similar level of contact describe themselves as lonely. It is all very well to say you should ‘get out more’ and this guide offers lots of possibilities but there are other ways. There is a far more complete list of stresses at www.helpguide.org
Reducing unhealthy stress
Identifying the causes of stress may have already set you on a path to reducing unhealthy stress and you may have committed to a course of action. Often that can be supported by making small changes to have an evolution to becoming less stressed. The following actions could help:
Connect with your existing support network
A strong network of supportive friends and family members is an enormous buffer against stress. When you have people you can count on, life’s pressures don’t seem as overwhelming. Families are more dispersed than ever however technology can help bring them closer. Here are some commonly available free technologies that are great at keeping people in touch
- WhatsApp WhatsApp is a brilliant app for keeping families in touch. It is entirely private and you can share messages and photos with chosen individuals or groups and also have phone calls free of charge to people on your network or even video calls. It is not difficult to set up, and you can start with just two people and then build different networks from there. There is no advertising on WhatsApp either but you will need a smartphone.
- Facebook Facebook allows you to build a social network and most things that are said are shared with everyone on your network. It is not as good at communicating one to one or with smaller groups but comes into its own when you want a wider forum, so think of it more as being in a market square.
- Skype, Again this has free calls and video calls but is not as good at generally sharing photos as the others as it is focussed on realtime communications. You both have to be looking at Skype at the same time but it still offers you free calls worldwide.
- Appear.in A really simple system where if up to 6 people visit the same webpage at the same time and turn their video cameras on (on phone, tablets or laptops) they will be in a conference call/chatroom. You make your chatrooms by adding a random set of words after the link appear.in, for instance www.appear.in/acticheckisgreat !
Connect to others
The simple act of talking face-to-face with another human can trigger hormones that relieve stress when you’re feeling agitated or insecure. Even just a brief exchange of kind words or a friendly look from another human being can help calm and soothe your nervous system. So, spend time with people who make you feel good and don’t let your responsibilities keep you from having a social life.
Ubuntu is a Zulu word that translates as ‘I am because we are’. This highlights the idea that we are formed by our relations with others, that a child born in isolation would not grow into a rounded adult even if it were fed the same information and given the same knowledge as someone who has grown up in community.
Have you been clear about your needs? Don’t assume people know you are feeling lonely so make it clear. Some people will withdraw through loneliness and, to outsiders, it can be seen as a being aloof. Help them to help you by telling them how you’d like to relate to them and if someone comes to visit who you’d like to see more often be grateful for the time they have taken and don’t complain about how long it has been since you last saw them.
If your natural network still leaves you feeling lonely then you should speak to charities, your local council or your local GP who will be able to point you in the right direction. Do not suffer in silence! As well as ensuring you have people you are connected to, the radio can be a useful tonic at home. If you look online or on a smartphone or iPad app you can find internet radio stations like Radio 4 Extra which broadcasts archived repeats of comedies, drama and documentaries 24 hours a day.
Upping your activity level is something you can do right now to help relieve stress and start to feel better. Exercise clatters your body chemistry which lifts your mood and can be a distraction from worries, breaking cycles of negative thoughts that feed stress. Rhythmic exercises such as walking, running, swimming, and dancing are particularly effective, especially if you exercise mindfully (focusing your attention on the physical sensations you experience as you move).
Engage your senses
Another fast way to relax can be to engage a single sense— sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or movement. The key is to find the sensory input that works for you. Does listening to an uplifting song make you feel calm? Or smelling ground coffee? Or maybe petting an animal works quickly to make you feel centred? Everyone responds to sensory input a little differently, so experiment to find what works best for you.
Learn to relax
Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing induce a state of restfulness that is the polar opposite of the stress response. When practiced regularly, these activities can reduce your everyday stress levels and boost feelings of joy and serenity. They also increase your ability to stay calm and collected under pressure. There are lots of resources online, for example relaxlikeaboss.com has interesting ideas on using positive affirmations to control stress
Eat a healthy diet
Eating a diet full of processed and convenience food, refined carbohydrates, and sugary snacks can worsen symptoms of stress while eating adiet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, high-quality protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, can help you better cope with life’s ups and downs. Get your rest. Feeling tired can increase stress by causing you to think irrationally. At the same time, chronic stress can disrupt your sleep which can in turn make you more stressed. Find ways to get adequate rest.
The next (and final) mini-guide explores Spiritual Health.
Healthy Active Ageing
This blog post is an excerpt from Healthy Active Ageing, a series of mini-guides that together cover most of what we can do as human beings to make the later stages of our lives as positive as they can be. If you complete the details below we’ll email you one of the guides every until you have the full set. You will know a lot of the information but there is nothing wrong with a reminder every now and then; and there may even be some information which is new to you.