Applied Psychology

Redefining Stress to make it Work for You

Apr 13, 2021 | By Saranne Durham
stress-awareness-month

Stress can paralyse or spur you into action. How we manage it and frame it often determines which path it leads us down. You can make stress work for you. We cannot always control what happens to us or how a situation plays out. However, what we can do is learn to manage our responses and become better at reframing situations. As a result, enabling us to decrease our stress levels and utilise it as a positive factor in our lives.

“Stress can be a positive factor in our lives.”

What is Stress?

Stress is how we respond to a demand or challenge that we encounter. It originates from any event or thought that frustrates us or causes one to feel angry or nervous. Often, it’s linked to being under pressure, change, not having control over a situation and uncertainty. Our bodies react to the situation with a feeling of physical, emotional or psychological strain. How quickly we are able to identify the root cause and find a solution can determine the longer-term impact thereof. It also determines how long it will take us to bounce back from being knocked off our equilibrium.

How to Identify Stress?

Stress impacts everyone differently and the degree it affects particular areas of our lives varies. Specific causes include finances, work, relationships, parenting, change and inconveniences.

If you suspect that stress is affecting you then there are a few things to keep an eye out for:

  • Physical signs: Increased blood pressure, shortness of breath, muscle tension and headaches, decreased libido, changes in menstrual cycles and frequent bouts of illness.
  • Emotional signs: Changes in mood, irritability, increased anger or frustration.
  • Psychological signs: Anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating and remembering things.
  • Behavioural signs: Decreased selfcare, withdrawing from social settings, not having time to do things you enjoy or relying on painkillers, drugs and/or alcohol to function.

Three things to Remember:

  1. It affects everyone
  2. It isn’t always bad
  3. It’s manageable

5 Ways to make Stress Work for You

  1. Welcome It! Studies show that optimal performance requires a moderate level of stress. By figuring out what’s causing your anxiety, you can use your heightened sense of awareness to do better.
  2. Process It! By acknowledging it, you process it in your brain’s prefrontal cortex. This rational, thinking part of your brain, allows you to pause, evaluate and choose the best response. If you don’t do this, it’s processed in the limbic brain centres. Which triggers a flight-or-fight reactive response that escalates stress levels.
  3. Reframe it! When we care about something, we are more inclined to stress because something meaningful is at stake. This indicates the presence of good things in our lives. Looking at things through a glass-half-full lens positively changes our perspective on a situation. Which makes us happier!
  4. Refocus it! Give yourself a better viewpoint by doing something unexpectedly nice for someone else. By turning your attention away from yourself, you can decrease the feeling of being overwhelmed.
  5. Learn from it! Understand the root cause. By reflecting on the situation, you can learn and grow from it. Which better enables you to decrease future stress levels.

Learning to Manage it

A psychologist or counsellor can help you to better harness the positive aspects of stress. SACAP offers a range of world-wide accredited courses in psychology or counselling.  If you are interested in helping others to learn how to manage stress, then contact SACAP today to find a course to suit your career ambitions.

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