Its Mental Health Awareness Week, with the focus this year on stress. How many times have you felt like everything is just too much? That no one understands? That you feel like all the demands of life are impossible? And everything is just crowding in? I'm sure we have all been there at some point.
Suffering from stress (or as I put it, feeling distressed) is a very human response to overwhelming circumstances and experiences. Often, stress can be seen as an individual's problem. They are too sensitive, they don't know how to cope.
People may well be sensitive, and may well have difficulties with coping. And, these aspects of being can be exacerbated by stretching circumstances, insufficient or inadequate support, and the individual's history of support (or not) in dealing with challenging experiences.
In thinking about how to tackle the issue of stress that many of us will encounter in our lives, I would like to suggest that we could make a difference by considering how we frame our emotional experience. Becoming stressed can be the end of a long journey of difficulties building up, one after another, over time.
How might we use our feeling response to different circumstances as a guide to help us navigate our way through work and home life? It can be common for feelings like anxiety, sadness or anger to be thought of as 'negative' emotions. Leading us to judge our emotional states as wrong can be a cause of stress in itself as we try to get away from the 'negative' feeling and make it go away. The message the feeling is sending then is never fully attended to, leading to a build up of tension, more of the 'negative' feeling, ending up in a cycle of not-good-enough.
Sometimes we just don't know what we feel, distancing us from our capacity to use this internal compass.
What if a rising feeling of anxiety and sense of impending doom was a signal to us that we needed to ask for help, take a break or have a chat to a friend?
What if feeling like nothing you do is good enough became a signal to ask for a conversation about expectations and feedback on your work?
What if feeling angry was a signal that your personal boundaries had been crossed in some way and could guide you to a conversation around what is ok for you and not?
What if feeling sad was a signal that you had lost something important to you and that loss simply needed grieved?
Stress is a relational event. It happens in relationship to the circumstances of people's lives. It is a response to present and/or past difficulties.
What if you came across a colleague or friend looking harassed and offered a friendly ear or helping hand instead of asking 'what's wrong' with them?
How do we contribute to a culture that forgets we are human, have limits and need the support of others?
How do you take care of your distress levels?
If you are struggling with these issues there are many resources out there to help you. Therapy can be really helpful in exploring your stress experience and different ways of being. If you are interested in engaging in therapy you can find a therapist here, or find out more about my practice here.