People sharing our stress stories

Our stress stories (and your questions answered)

This week I want to summarise our stress stories, as they’ve been told in surveys and comments over this month. But first a very big THANK YOU to everyone for taking the time to answer my questions and give me insight into how we experience and cope with stress. It’s one thing to hunt out statistics online; it’s quite another to get a little glimpse into real people’s lives. I’m both touched and humbled.

Our stress stories summed up

I wanted to run my own survey because the numbers reported elsewhere seemed a little high. Based on your answers, I was both right and wrong to believe that. Here’s the run down. 71% of us believe stress is a problem for our society. We think Yr 12/uni students and single parents have the highest stress levels. Parents with young kids are hot on their heels. However, we recognise that anyone at any stage can and may be stressed.

40% of those surveyed are normally only a little stressed, a third middlingly so and 20% of us are regularly quite stressed. One brave soul was not stressed at all, whilst nobody claimed to be very stressed. I imagine this is because if we were, we wouldn’t be filling in surveys!! The week we completed the survey our stress levels ranged from 1 to 8/10, with the most (23%) of us at 8. If we’re stressed we can tell, at least sometimes.

Nearly one in two of us experience the most stress over our work (48%). Although, when you combine relational issues together (partners or kids or other family members), a third of us feel stressed in that context too. Worry about the future, health and trying to hold everything together also received multiple mentions.

Handling our stress

One third of us have found consistent healthy ways of handling the pressure we’re under. However, the other 67% of us tend towards less ideal responses. Eating in ways we consider unhealthy featured in half the ‘unhealthy response’ answers. Our next most likely struggles are with either avoidance/procrastinating or some kind of reacting or venting.

For all we’re concerned about how we deal with stress, our stress stories in combination tell me we each know some healthier ways forwards. Here’s the range of answers you gave about your better ways of coping:

  • Connecting with people, dealing with the causes of stress proactively, deep breathing,
  • Going for a walk, getting outside, remembering how I feel with healthful food
  • Prayer, exercise, time out
  • Time out for self away from people, planning next steps and focusing on them, massage
  • Resting, talking with friends/spouse honestly
  • Praying/yoga/meditation

All of these are great responses and stress management techniques.

Specific questions and challenges we have

Managing our stress responses is a valid concern. It was reflected in what we tussle with, questions such as ‘How do I stop mindless poor responses?’ and ‘Choosing what I know to be healthy ways of managing stress in the stressful moment.’ I recognise this challenge, and struggle with it myself. We probably all do. Since I don’t think I’ve tried to covered it anywhere yet this month, I’ll have a go addressing the concept in a moment.

Dealing with stress in a relational context also earned some mentions as a specific challenge, though it ranged from generally handling family relationships to managing stress with young children to supporting stressed partners! Speaking with people this month I’ve realised some of us are more concerned for others and wondering how to help them manage stress or handle other personal wellness issues better. So next month I’ll do a post specifically on that. Relationships are challenging as well as rewarding, so keep wrestling with your questions. And, good on you for caring about others. Even that will help them!

Many of our other specific challenges rotate around recognising, addressing and creating space in life to deal with stress well. Learning new managing techniques and thinking positively become possible as we teach ourselves to understand stress and build our abilities through specific but little exercises and actions. If you didn’t find the suggestions from last week enough, please check out the training session on Un.Stress over at Head Set Go! It gives you some excellent information to build your awareness of stress and several attitudes and abilities to unwind you, all in a 30 minute download!

Changing our stress stories to limit mindless responses

One of the big challenges of high stress is it floats us along on our emotions to actions we wouldn’t choose otherwise. We become passive. The only way round that is learning to bring our heads back into the game. Start thinking. Identifying the stress signals your body sends you and then teaching yourself to notice them is where you begin. Having pre-considered alternatives to your unwanted, mindless defaults allows you to make conscious choices about what you’re going to do. Any number of little actions can provide a circuit breaker and allow you to move to a better path.

If you don’t think you have the information or where-with-all to actually do this yourself, the free PDF you can download off this site will walk you through it. So will any of the training at Head Set Go. Don’t stay stuck in this by not doing something – on your own if you prefer, or with some support as an alternative. Either way, help me build a community of people supporting each other and stepping towards healthy by adding your ideas and comments whenever you can.

The overeating challenge

Mindless overeating of sweet or fatty foods is a subset of the mindless responses above, and I wanted to address it because it’s part of so many of our stress stories. Apparently, you don’t get hungry in the initial stage of stress. But unresolved stress triggers the adrenal glands, releasing cortisol – and cortisol increases appetite. If we’re not careful, it also inclines us to emotional eating – putting stuff into our mouth as an alternative to what we really need.

The solutions – they say – follow the same path as I listed for any mindless response. Plus identifying and resolving what we really want. But because that seemed a tad too general and lacking practicality, I searched round for some more specific things we could try. Here’s a few ideas I came up with:

1. Remove tempting food from the house.

This is my brother’s strategy, and one of my friend’s as well. (She has an ice cream thing. She says if it’s in the house, she’ll eat it. All. In one evening. So, she simply never buys it.) I’ve also seen this strategy suggested online. If you have to go and get what you’re craving, you’ve at least got to put yourself out first. Plus it gives you time to ask yourself what you’re doing and convince your better side to win.

2. Limit ‘treats’ to one 4 hour window a week

An older friend once mentioned she starved herself all week so she could indulge on the weekend. This is a healthier version of that. Since feeling deprived’s a great way to encourage you to counter compensate, being able to say, “Well, on Saturday I’ll eat cake to my heart’s content” offers us some controls. It saves us in the now. Plus, we can wait for up to a week. This delayed gratification stops us feeling deprived and puts the brakes on the mindless stress bingeing.

The biggest challenge with adopting this strategy- in our house anyway!- has been not going crazy for the entire time you’re allowed to indulge! Still working on that one…

3. Create your own self-management or advertising campaign

Ok, so I’ve thought this idea up. I was wondering if it’d be possible to keep treat food in the house but use a series of questions on my fridge or in the cupboard to act as checks for the times I’m tempted to sneak a little treat. I’d probably use words, but you could make yourself a poster or two with pictures if you thought it’d be more effective. Mine would say things like ‘Are you REALLY hungry?’ or ‘Walk away and come back in 5 minutes if you still want this.’ Stuff designed to be a circuit breaker so I could hopefully reengage my thinking and take back control. But you could use any advertising strategy and style you chose! (To do it think about and mimic your favourite ad!)

I think I’d also be tempted to use post it notes, and perhaps make myself move them elsewhere whenever I ignored them. I could later track what was happening then and see what I learnt. Maybe to my diary – though that may hurt! I don’t know. Is the idea even worth considering? What do you think?

Goodbye stress, hello Un.Stress?

That’s the summary of our thinking. I hope you’ve found yourself in the story, and that I’ve at least added something to your problem solving thought processes. Once again, thanks for sharing your stress stories with me. I hope you’ve learnt something and feel better able to manage your stress.

We’re looking at positive mental health in general from next week. There’s heaps for us to learn together, so please keep touching base. I’m looking forward to catching up with you then.