In the past year ¾ of us claim to have felt so stressed we are unable to cope. It’s easy to understand why, the normal life stresses, big and small, that we experience with added pandemic parenting and homeschooling have pushed many of us to our limits. Some stress is good. We all need it to survive. We are built to experience and deal with it and it’s the body’s way of preparing us for action.
Here’s what’s happening in your body:
Stress arouses the Sympathetic Nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system directs the body's rapid involuntary response to dangerous or stressful situations. In prehistoric times this would have been the approach of a dangerous animal, in the 2020’s this is more likely to be a tantruming toddler or worry about which school the kids will get into.
A flash flood of hormones boosts the body's alertness and heart rate sending extra blood to the muscles. We all have different responses and signs of stress within our bodies – anything from a quickening heart rate to a stomach pains to red cheeks. It’s dependent on the ‘threat’ , our reactions and our tolerances. As I said, we all need stress to some degree to keep us alert. But it’s when it happens too much, or for too long, and interferes with our lives, that it can cause problems. There are lots of ways to manage stress, and these will vary for each of us. But, as ever, the first thing to do is to bring awareness to ourselves and take some time to think about what’s happening and what might be causing us stress. It sounds simple but we have a tendency to just carry on, without stopping to think about ourselves, especially when we have families to care for. I’ve seen time and again where people just keep going and going and only stop when they are forced to. One of my favourite tools is the Stress Container (often referred to as the Stress Bucket – but there’s something about that terminology I can’t get on with!). It helps us identify and what’s causing stress in our lives, and how we are coping with it. It’s a pretty simple tool, but as mentioned, bringing attention to something is the first step towards getting a handle on it and managing it.
The diagram is fairly self-explanatory, but here’s how it works:
We all have a Stress Container.
It’s size is dependent on our resilience and vulenrablity to stress (you would have a small container if you were particularly vulberable, a large one if you were more resilient).
All the things that are causing you stress or worry go into the container.
There’s a tap on the bottom which you can switch on by employing helpful coping strategies.
But the tap gets blocked if you don’t use any helpful coping strategies, or you resort to unhelpful coping strategies.
Then the container overflows, which is when problems can develop.
Give it a try, draw one out and take time to really think about it. And next time you’re feeling like things are about to overflow, take some time to work out what your coping strategies are, and what you need to change. Here’s a 4 minute explainer video if you’d like to know more.