Stress has a bad reputation. Even in ideal circumstances, completely eradicating stress from your life is not possible – nor should you try. Stress is an important way for our bodies to communicate to us what our limits are. In the past, a fight or flight response helped humans flee dangerous situations or defend themselves. In the modern world, stress is what tells us that we are doing too much or not taking care of ourselves.

Even the calmest among us suffers from the occasional stressful day. Stress is what allows us to push ourselves to reach our goals, keeping us on our toes and tackling challenges head on. But what’s the difference between stress that is actually helpful and motivating, and stress that is overwhelming you completely?

If it feels like stress is beginning to take over your life, a counsellor or psychologist can help you work on skills to help you weather crises better. Take a look at these warning signs that stress has become unmanageable for you:

  • When you feel stressed, you are unable to do all the day-to-day tasks you need to, and become almost paralysed or unable to function.
  • To cope with increasing stress, you have turned to substances. For example, you can’t unwind in the evenings unless you have a couple of glasses of wine, or you have started to use sleeping pills regularly just to get some rest.
  • You are noticing harmful physical reactions – perhaps the development of an ulcer, rashes or skin conditions, gastrointestinal problems, allergies or headaches.
  • You feel numb and almost outside of yourself. You feel spaced out, withdrawn and even a little depressed.
  • Your stress is taking its toll on your relationships, for example you are unreasonably irritated with your children or dismissive of your spouse.
  • You have stopped taking care of yourself and have neglected your appearance or started to over or under eat.

We are all different in our stress responses, and what is intolerable for one person can be an exciting challenge for another. The bottom line is, if stress is helping you to achieve your goals and push yourself to be better, then it’s “good stress”; but if you are immobilized and find it leaving you tired, pessimistic, sad, anxious or unable to function as you need to, you should seek help.

A Specific Stress Solution

The way you deal with stress will depend entirely on your history, personality, skills and personal resilience.

External Stress – If the problem is merely that you have too much to do in too little time, your challenge will be one of time management and prioritising. Learning to delegate, to make time for relaxation and striving for a more balanced lifestyle are all skills that can be learned to promote serenity and moderation. Major life changes are also temporary, and our response to them will focus on regaining our composure.

Internal Stress – It may be that your feelings of stress stem from the kind of thoughts you have about yourself and your life. Cognitive behavioural therapy can teach us to be less pessimistic and defeatist in our self-talk.

Lastly, if your stress symptoms have followed a very traumatic event, which you seem to be re-experiencing (for example in “flashbacks” or nightmares), you may be suffering from PTSD or an acute stress response. A mental health professional can help you determine whether medication would be helpful for you in this case.

If you feel like stress is taking over your life or of someone you know, Australia Counselling can help. Click here to look for therapists near your area who can help you manage stress.

Photo credits to: jadesteckly