We all need to be able to manage high levels of stress. We are susceptible to using unhealthy ‘stress control’ techniques including alcohol, drug and nicotine misuse, poor diet and a plethora of unhealthy psychological and social behaviours such as avoiding difficult jobs, being disorganised, not taking any exercise, or not ‘switching off’. There is no reliable evidence that there is a higher incidence of unmanageable stress these days but a key question is how can we take active steps to manage our stress and that of those we care for?
Our confidence and wellbeing are significantly affected by our thoughts and behaviour. Most stress management centres on ‘positive thinking’, ‘setting small targets’ and being action orientated. Carers are well placed to confidently learn and practice up-to-date stress management techniques.
Some of the more common reasons for stress amongst carers include the following:
- Work focused on ‘client problems’. Clients typically present with their •problems’ often involving trauma, physical and psychological symptoms, loss of independence, negative financial consequences. A carer is expected to help both emotionally and practically, whilst having to deal with problems of their own as well.
- Multi task management of people, paper and time. Work is often time constrained with multiple and difficult appointments and deadlines, with the need to manage large amounts of tasks.
- Work/ leisure imbalance. The dilemma of whether long hours equates to success is a perennial one. Excessive long hours result in little or no leisure time.
When or why in the last week have you felt particularly stressed? Use the list below as an aid:-
- Pessimistic tendencies
- Mild procrastination
- Slight disorganisation
- Occasional disputes (with friends and colleagues)
- Not preparing early enough for tasks
- Focussing on the past
- Not relaxing regularly
- Lack of exercise
- Too much booze!
- Cluttered and dirty spaces
- Not enough sleep
- Feeling alone sometimes
If we are more aware of how much better being relaxed feels, this can motivate us all to aim for tackling unwanted stress.
Some of the benefits of improved stress control are: –
- Regular calmness and well-being
- Increased concentration and attention at work and home.
- Better communication and relationships with friends and colleagues.
- Improved physical health.
- Extra energy and motivation.
- Success with work and life goals.
Your attempts to reduce stress will be most effective when your approach is practical and immediate. Using strategies which are active, are small or discrete enough to do relatively easily and quickly, in other words, ‘Active Steps’ (AS), can be put into practice now (i.e., today)
Practical stress reduction tips fall into four categories covering the key areas of everyday life – thinking, lifestyle, communication and behaviour.
( T ) Thinking to reduce stress: We think in some way for most of our working day about those we care for, relationship issues at work and home, and general work load, work, personal and relationship.
Increasing positive, logical and mindful thinking results in greater calmness, both at work and at home.
Step 1 Think positively: If you can think in more positive ways about yourself and your surrounding during the day, this can have a big impact on how you feel.
Be more confident about your own ability to get your next task done. Say to yourself in a clear, confident and calm inner voice ‘T can do it’ . The more you repeat this Active Step to yourself* the more you will feel it is true.
Focus on the positives. Remember to focus on the positives today, even (and especially) if you are feeling a little down or stressed. Think of some of the good things about you and what you have done today.
Step 2 Think logically: We often mis-interpret or think in irrational ways. Monitoring our thoughts and Thinking more logically really helps.
Understand other’ actions. Try to understand and be considerate of how people around you are feeling. If you sense that they may be worried, upset or stressed about something, offer your support. Don’t take things personally if others’ actions towards you seem difficult.
Negative thoughts will often pass or change if you give them time. Distract yourself from any anxious or negative thought’s you have today. Use positive thoughts or actions to help you do this.
Step 3 Practice mindfulness: Taking time out regularly to be present centered and ignore past or future concerns helps to re-charge our batteries.
Focus on your breathing. Regularly throughout today, stop, sit comfortably and focus on your breathing. Breathe in and out slowly and deeply to allow you to relax. You can do this wherever and whenever you are.
Appreciate your senses. Be more aware of, and enjoy each of your senses regularly today. What can you see, feel, hear, taste and smell now? Enjoy the moment!
( L ) Lifestyle to reduce stress: We know that everyday areas of nutrition, health, exercise and managing home/work balance contributes to reduced stress. Being more aware of this and reminding ourselves of these ideas helps.
Step 4 Get active: Being more active is good physically and mentally and doesn’t need to be time consuming.
Have an active lifestyle. Walk, don’t drive; get off the bus or tube one stop earlier; take stairs whenever possible instead of the lift. Every little bit of activity adds up.
Activate your mind. Plan to spend some time on a hobby – anything from writing to drawing to music to photography to gardening something you can put your personal stamp to. This can be calming both to do and look forward too.
Step 5 Create a calm office: You may spend a lot of time in an office; it can have a calming effect or contribute to your stress.
De-clutter your office today. Set a 30-minuteperiod aside to do this. Think of an ‘uncluttered office’ as a ‘calm mind’.
Get some greenery for your ofTice from your local garden centre. Looking after this is both calming and distracting and adds something living to your working space in contrast to cold, man-macle objects.
Step 6 Balance your lifestyle: The 18 hours of your working day should include a good balance between work and home activities and also allow for relaxed sleep.
Balance out the time yout work, rest and play. This can be difficult, but try to leave work at work, spend time relaxing and being active at home.
Get into a routine of going to bed at roughly the same time and getting up at roughly the same time. Allow yourself to relax for a good hour before bed to help you switch off and unwind before sleeping.
(C) Communication to reduce stress: Being in a busy job means lots of opportunity to talk to others. Use this to good effect. It feels good to give and receive positivity and warmth. Positive comments help others help you.
Step 7 Communicate Clearly: There are many opportunities in our day to use contact with other people to de-stress.
Make initial connections today whenever you can. Make eye contact, smile and say hello to colleagues and other staff or people you see on the way to work or at lunchtime.
Share an interest. Think and talk about what you have in common with your friends and colleagues. Think and talk about mutual interests. (eg sport, wine, food travel).
Step 8 Exchange positivity and warmth: How do you feel when a colleague is positive towards you?
Seek support from friends and colleagues if you feel stressed, angry or upset today. Tell them how you are feeling. They will probably be understanding and give you helpful advice.
Help to reassure people around you during conversations. Acknowledge the worth of what people say so they feel good about themselves. Be receptive to their concerns.
(B) Behaviour to reduce stress: Caring for others can make you tense and overloaded. Getting more organised and relaxing more can often be beneficial.
Step 9 Relax more The most practical of all the stress tips – try to be more aware of when you can relax during the day and the evening.
Use instant relaxation to relax you frequently today. You can do it wherever you are using the word ‘relax’ and taking a deep breath, and tensing some muscles eg. in your arms and legs and letting it out slowly, for a count of 5 and then letting them go.
Step 10 Organise your time, paper and ‘systems’: being busy is great and… being tidy and organised helps.
Every week, spend a few minutes tidying your •space’ (visible desk and shelves, and invisible drawers and cupboards), either at work or at home.
Prepare more for the week ahead – keep a job/task list and allocate time for urgent and non-urgent tasks.
Make reducing your stress levels a high priority from now on. Keep yourself on track by remembering to:
- Think positively
- Think logically
- Practise mindfulness Get active
- Create a calm office
- Balance your lifestyle
- Communicate clearer with friends, family and even strangers
- Be warmer and more positive to people
- Relax more
- Organise time, papers and work into systems
In summary, think about what you do well and what you can do to manage varying stress in your work as a carer and in your own home life. Visualise and expect success when you tackle your next difficult task. Your enthusiasm and positivity is infectious – it spreads to friends, clients and colleagues and increases confidence. All these Active Steps are practical and action-oriented. Feel less stressed now, step-by-step, using I Active Steps’.
You will find these ideas work. Have a go today!
Hugh Koch is a Clinical Psychologist who recently published ‘Active Steps to Reducing Stress’ with his son James, also a Psychologist. This book is available from UUwcgduc-ingst.cg.ss.:CQ2.uk and available in book stores, price €9.99. Further details can be found from them at 01242 263 715.