As a dad and father of two, and working with computers for more than 30 years, it will come as no surprise that my body and mind has had its fair share of stress.
Factor in life’s ability to throw a spanner in the works during those rare moments you kid yourself into thinking that you have it all under control…..it simply made sense for me to start with an piece all about stress!
As my reader, regardless of your own personal relationship and family status, it’s fair to say that your daily life will most likely be composed of elements that could be causing the onset of stress or anxiety.
Deadlines, demands and the need for financial security, along with other more nefarious stressful actors such as keeping up with technology (in my case), or keeping yourself updated regarding your own particular job skillset (whatever that may be).
Stree stress streess, it’s so for you isn’t ?
Well actually not for all: for some people stress can be a great motivator, helping them to perform under pressure, and giving them the drive to go that extra mile when it’s needed.
When stress gets ugly
While going the extra mile on stress can be good, what if you’re always running to assist in an emergency, always fire-fighting one problem to then being propelled onto the next one, all the while keeping your mind and body focused with a steady stream of coffee?
I used to work in an environment that can only be described as ‘fire-fighting’ 24/7. No-one could question people’s commitment to their jobs, but it was never enough. I remember one person that actually got diabetes solely because they were stressed. On a personal level my own mother went into full-time nursing five years ago as she developed vascular dementia, now she no longer recognises me or my brother, and that’s down to two things: stress (caused by life and her children, my theory) and poor nutrition.
Here is one of my favourite tales of how stress manifests iteslf.
A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired: “How heavy is this glass of water?”
Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.
She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.”
She continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything.”
Remember to put the glass down.
Take this key message away with you: You will cut your life short and suffer unless you are able to manage your stress levels.
Early signs of stress
I’ve seen some people that have been in a state of stress for such a long time that they actually think it is their normal state of mind (I call it perpetual stress). Some people do not recognise stress and instead equate stress to having a normal day in the office, or on really stressful days, a particularly ‘hard day’ in the office.
It’s quite possible that you dear reader are showing the first signs of stress already – being completely overwhelmed at the number of things you have to do during the day, and feeling as though your head has been ‘cooked’ or ‘frazzled’.
It’s normal to be stressed, don’t worry about it!
You might have heard this after starting a new job too.
While it’s okay to feel a little overwhelmed and stressed at the start of a new job that feeling should not last or at least not be the thing that slows your leap from bed to office in the morning. Studies have shown that the long term effects of stress have been attributed to a list of medical conditions that include: heart disease, depression, dementia and obesity.
So, if you’ve been in your job a while and you find yourself still mentally referencing the quote from above; it’s a good time to start analysing the impact your job could be having on your health long-term.
Am I suffering from stress now?
One of the first things we can do whenever we find ourselves in trouble in life, is to ask a difficult question. As I’ve mentioned, stress can affect your mind (psychological) and your body (physiologically) and be the reason for the onset of medical conditions: while you’re young your body and mind absorbs everything and then stores it until you reach a more mature age so you can suffer for it properly when you’ve got the time to worry about it.
I’m 43 (hence the website contains my birth year 72) and my own levels of psychological stress are reasonably well-managed, but the thirty odd years of working with technology is making me pay a price for my keyboard and mouse strokes. I am therefore constantly fighting my own physiological stress and looking to alleviate it.
If you are looking for answers to the question of whether you might be suffering from stress, and by reading this article, we can assume that you are concerned about the affect this is having on your ability to interact with those around you, I provide a list of likely suspects that could provide clues as to whether you are suffering from stress or not.
Psychological tell-tale signs
Here are some examples of how powerful the mind can be in setting your behavioural patterns and mood.
- Over or under eating to satisfy some kind of internal desire you can’t put your finger on.
- Drinking alcohol excessively as a means to forget about your day or event.
- Taking drugs as a means to switch off your mind and relax.
- Feeling helpless and unable to change your current life-situation no matter how hard you try.
- Having attacks of anxiety and panic.
- Feeling depressed and being unable to lift yourself out of the abyss.
- Experiencing difficulty in comprehending information.
- Being careless in the work you do, making mistakes that are not like you.
- Being unable to maintain levels of concentration.
- Unable to relax – even on the weekends.
- Always worrying about something.
- Feeling uptight and tense.
- Finding yourself easily irritable, even after sleeping for 12 hours!
- Being unable to sleep and having a generally restless night’s sleep (even when the kids aren’t waking you up).
Physiological tell-tale signs of stress
Once the mind has convinced your body of the steps you need to take in order to feel better (eat more, drink more), the body responds in its own special way to the abuse you heap on yourself.
The following are some of the joys that you can expect to find waiting for you at the end of the stress tunnel undersigned by the mind:
- Back ache – an unhealthy lifestyle combined with poor diet can place extra stress on your back, and this is where you can expect to see some physiological damage caused by stress.
- Stomach ulcers – In your more mature years your stomach is a very popular dumping ground for long-term stress. You can also expect diarreia to go with that dodgy stomach.
- Dizziness – When you are overwhelmed and your head is racing trying to complete things that your mind says you can’t complete, you can expect your body to react with dizziness.
- Feeling tired most of the time – It’s a trigger, your mind is exhausted and tells your body to feel the same.
- Lack of Libido – If you’re stressed it should come as no surprise that you’ll be performing badly – if at all – in bed, and you won’t be interested either.
Seeing what the mind and body can bring on when working as a team against you, it should come as no surprise that things can get bad very quickly if you don’t nip stress in the bud. The more stressed you feel the more the mind and body compound the situation.
What brings the stress on?
As part of this 101 understanding stress and its origins and by zooming out, we can group stress as coming from the outside (external factors) or inside (internal factors). To tackle stress it’s important to recognize the relationship between what you do during the day, with what happens after you think that you’ve switched off.
Understanding this will lead you to a better place from where you can analyse in greater detail the causes, and take steps to tackle stress with the most appropriate strategies.
Outside (external) factors that contribute stress.
- Major life changes
- Relationship difficulties
- Financial Problems
- Being too busy
- Children and family troubles
Inside (internal) factors that indicate stress is on its way
- Inability to accept uncertainty and be assertive.
- Pessimism and negative self-talk.
- Setting unrealistic expectations.
- Trying to make everything perfect all the time.
If only it was so easy to segment stress in this way: sometimes there can be so much overlap between the factors that are causing stress that it’s pretty much impossible to single out what is the root cause of the stress, if just one cause even exists. My own strategy for dealing with things that become overwhelming is to write a list.
I’d just start with an item like “work” and then list all the things underneath that are causing stress. At the end of the exercise I have a list of things that I can then categorize and make more sense of. I’m also usually surprised just how much stuff needs to come out onto a piece of paper (sometimes I need two or three pieces!).
The impact that stress has on kids
While suffering from stress, friends and colleagues that don’t want to be around you at work can do so and find a way to avoid you, your children can’t. The point at which I became a parent was the moment I decided that I was going to try and change the world in my own small way so they could grow up in something that was a little bit better for them. It wasn’t even decided, it just happened. Therefore as a dad I have to consider the affect that stress is having on my children.
There can be large differences in the ways that children react to stress within the family unit: some children are resilient to stress and cope well with it, while others can have enormous problems. This is what the research says.
Factors that influence the child’s ability to cope with stress include temperament, high self-esteem and high IQ. If you’ve got boys (like me) it is scientifically proven that you kids will suffer more from stressful situations (I doubt there is a parent with two boys that would want to challenge that fact) , than if you had had girls (still there are always mini-skirts for parents of girls to get stressed over).
While your children are growing, their exposure to stress can affect their development. For example, studies have shown how babies who are sociable and active in the visual exploration of their environment are less likely to respond to later adversity, such as rebellion at school, delinquency or psychiatric illness.
As a parent if you are suffering from stress then you are more likely to treat your child insensitively. These types of behavioural signals are assimilated by your child get and used as a reference point for understanding how they should interact with the outside world.
“Why are you talking to me like that” (Parent)
“Because you talk to me like that” (Child)
Any child that is not exposed to overly stressful events during their upbringing and that maintains a healthy disposition is more likely to experience fewer problems in the relationships they have with their parents, and are less affected should there be any breakdown in the family unit during their childhood. In cases where a child suffers from stress they are more likely to think through a range of solutions and strategies to help them cope with the stressor better. If the child has a close relationship with a person who is sensitive to their needs, it is more likely that they will be able to cope better in cases where there is a breakdown in the parental relationship. I’m not so sure about this one as I had a good slice of stressful events in childhod but still managed to get all the considered normal requisites for general human existence (wife, kids, job, independence).
Another factor in determining how successful the child will be in managing stress is the volume of stressful events that the child has to deal with while growing up. Whereas most children are able to cope with adverse events one at a time, a succession of adverse events can have a disruptive effect on the child’s well-being (bullying, parental separation, divorce, death).
In the specific case of divorce children are confronted with a series of stressful events which might include: a change in the family circle of friends, a drop in the standard of living, a splitting of the time spent with the mother and father. Research indicates that children show less disturbance to divorce if their socio-economic lifestyle remains unchanged.
The key message for parents that are suffering from stress, and for those that wish to protect their children as much as possible from stress having a negative impact on their child’s development is this: ensure that there is a close and continuous relationship which addresses the emotional needs of the child, and that there is a consistent level of socio-economic well-being should the family dynamic change due to an adverse family event or circumstance.
Coming to an end of this 101 on stress what are the takeways?
A bit of stress can be fine, and can actually help you get through tough moments, but prolonged stress can cause disruption to those around you, whether they are colleagues at work or closer to home. While you can’t expect that your working life contains the same levels of stress as you experience while sitting on the beach in the sun (if that is your idea of relaxation), keeping check of your stress levels and particularly making sure that you exercise regularly are ways to ensure that you keep your stress levels in check.
I’m now going off to make another list!