Q: I keep hearing about stress management and burn out. Can you explain these terms and what to do about them–I think I am there!
A: In order to understand stress management, we must be clear as to the definition of stress. Cranwell-Ward (1990) states that “stress is the physiological and psychological reaction which occurs when people perceive an imbalance between the level of demand placed upon them, and their capability to meet those demands”. In other words, stress is what happens to our bodies and our minds when we have more to cope with than we feel we can handle. Stress can be both positive and negative. Some happy events are very stressful, such as your own wedding. Some people thrive on stress, such as those who do their best work when facing a deadline. For others, stress can make it hard to cope.
Stress management requires a balance between stress and relaxation. When you are stressed, your heart beats faster, your breathing becomes rapid and shallow, and your blood pressure increases. When you relax, your heart rate and breathing is slower, and your blood pressure drops. Your body needs this rest time in order to recover. When you are managing stress, you are able to cope with things as they come up. You feel alert and in control. When the pressure is off, you are able to relax. When you are not managing your stress well, you may feel tense and out of control. Every incident becomes a problem. Life seems to revolve around a series of crises and you feel very anxious. When this becomes the norm, and you begin to feel constantly exhausted, despondent and do not seem to care about anything, you are probably experiencing burn out. You may feel constantly uptight, unable to relax and have little joy in life. You and your physician, of course, must rule out any physical illness before deciding on this prognosis.
In order to manage stress, there are a number of things that you can do. These include:
1. counselling to get to the root of the problem
2. proper exercise and nutrition
3. creative expression including journaling
4. assertiveness training
5. time management techniques
6. a variety of relaxation techniques including i) progressive relaxation ii)breathing control iii)guided imagery.
With help you can learn to manage stress positively with these and other techniques.