Deborah Fricker, Specialist Psychologist for Psychotherapy, 24.10.2018
Stress is an omnipresent and growing element of our lives. In Switzerland alone, one in four employees lack the resources to sufficiently compensate for their experiences with stress. Stress-related illnesses are so serious because they increase in frequency and are very cost-intensive due to absence or decreased productivity at work. This article describes what the psychological reaction to stress is and how you can deal with it.
Physical reaction to stress
When stress is experienced, a reaction in the body immediately occurs. Hormone secretion and the activation of our muscles prepare our bodies for this reaction. Chronic stress is a serious illness. It has consequences at the hormonal and cellular levels and also upon the very functioning of our organs from the heart and lungs to the digestive system and skin. Muscle tension, sleep disorders, increased heart rate, and high blood pressure can all occur.
Then, of course, comes the impact upon our minds when stress becomes a chronic condition. Often, we are unaware that this is occurring. We are used to coping with the structures and obligations of everyday life. Since much is already predetermined, we just go with it. Therefore, we work. When it is working, much of it is already automated, which is handy. There's no need for extra capacity to do it. However, here lurks the danger. By complying with our obligations, we lose more and more contact with ourselves and the things outside our professional lives that are most important.
The perception of stress comes late
Gradually, our strength dwindles. Negative thoughts like "what's wrong with you?"; "pull yourself together"; and "show no weakness" appear. Our sense of guilt only increases. We perceive that we somehow do not really have the strength and nerves for anything. The feeling that there is nowhere we give enough (at work, in the family, with friends, during sports) is present. In addition to the feeling of being unable to cope with anything comes the shame of having “failed”. Guilt and shame are very strong negative emotions that are immensely burdensome. We struggle to rebuild shattered self-esteem through increased efficiency. We also try to deny there is a problem. To tell someone that we are tired and stressed is unpleasant for us.
Maintaining the functional mode
In addition, we feel the pressure to continue to cover the costs of living. The more we are burdened, the narrower our point of view becomes. Potential solutions are barely visible. With more perseverance, we believe we can get there (with no target in sight). The stress and inability to cope with it occupies us day and night, affecting our eating behaviors and sleep patterns. We become thin-skinned and certainly cannot tolerate anything. Conflicts at home or work pile up. Our patience with friends and loved ones runs out. At times, we even turn to self-destructive coping mechanisms, including alcohol abuse. We feel more and more beside the track.
What helps me to relieve stress
It feels like you’ve lost yourself and left your personality far behind. It's all about surviving and maintaining the facade. Who am I? What makes me happy? What do I want? You may have given up and abandoned who you were and who you want to be. However, there are steps you can take towards getting better.
- Overcome denial. Admit that the problem is present. Accept your own mistakes. We all make them. Embrace your own weaknesses. We all have them. We are human.
- Treat yourself with compassion, as you would anyone else. Recognize your efforts. Keep in mind what you have actually done over and over again. Measure success not only in results, but primarily in the process itself. Seemingly small victories are definitely worth celebrating!
- Be open minded. Accept the possibility of and strengthen your willingness to change. See your own strengths and believe in yourself again.
- Actively look for relief in everyday life. Can I ask for help and support? May I have some spare time to do something that is good for me? Can I take a break for a few days or more? Can you just rest?
- Remember what is important in life. Base these on your own values and interests. Defining priorities (for example health, leisure, family & friends) in life is crucial.
- Learn methods and strategies to deal better with stress and become more resilient. This is the cornerstone of stress management. In a psychotherapy session with me, we can work on these strategies together.