Anna Dannfelt, stress therapist and holistic coach, clears up some misconceptions about stress and discusses when you should seek help to maintain balance.
Stress is on everybody’s lips today. How many times in a day do we hear, say or come across this word? Being busy does not necessarily mean being stressed and there is a serious and confusing misconception as to what stress really is. Expats may find that the major change of moving abroad could increase their levels of stress, and living in a foreign country, culture and language may initially contribute to that stress. How can expats deal with the stress of living abroad?
What causes expat stress?
Stress is what happens when we lose all sense of control over a situation and there are some very obvious areas where this happens:
- Losing a job or an income; not being able to meet your basic needs.
- Disease, death or prolonged pain.
- Being without work for a longer time; having too little to do.
- Major changes in life; moving, new job, having a baby…
- Too much to do over a long time without seeing any relief or having any influence over it.
Research has found that one of the groups in society that suffers the most from stress are people without a job. Not having enough to do creates stress in all individuals, be it man or beast. We are not made to just ‘sit around’, nor to overfill our valuable time with inconsequential actions.
Then there are the ‘myths’ of stress:
Good or bad stress
Stress is always a problem, there is no such thing as ‘good’ stress, what that means is that we are moving forward in a positive energy of motivation. But this can easily turn into stress (‘bad’ stress) if we lose sight of our needs and boundaries.
Inner or outer stress
We are not separated beings; whatever we experience emotionally or mentally (‘inner’ stress) will influence our physical body and how we handle a situation. ‘Outer’ stress; overwork, time-limits and pressure, will influence us on an emotional and mental level.
Stress is a serious condition that can be hard to spot, since our reactions to stress are entirely individual, depending on our basic make-up. Some people can handle tremendous amounts of pressure, others can’t. Some people show physical symptoms such as aches and pains, others suffer emotionally through depression and sleeplessness.
When we realise that we are beginning to experience stress, it is our personal responsibility to take measures, whatever they may be: stress management techniques, changes to schedule, time-management and/or help from a therapist; all to ‘nip it in the bud’. We need to learn self-awareness because this is the one major thing that will alter the impact of stress on our lives. Learning about what stress actually does to our systems (body, brain, mind and emotions) is valuable since it can help us to recognise symptoms and realise when to take measures.
Many of the stress-sufferers I meet have lost all sense of balance and they can see no solutions to their dilemma; instead of taking measures to ease the situation, they tend to push themselves even harder. They are simply not able to take care of themselves anymore and all the techniques in the world won’t help them, because they are completely unable to do it.
This is when I know for sure that the person has the dis-ease of stress. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they are burned out, which is a whole different chapter and way more serious than ‘simply’ stress. I also see people who ‘hide’ in the idea of stress to excuse their short-comings or flaunt their busy-ness. Sometimes there is even a certain pride in being stressed. Many of us grew up with the idea that a busy person is an important person.
Since the word stress has become synonymous with disease, I think we should be careful in our use of it. Are we really in dis-ease or are we simply un-balanced or busy? And what can we do about it?
As long as we can find any kind of solution or ask for help we are still okay and this is where we, as individuals, have the responsibility to act – before we start spiraling into disease. Remember; we are of no use to anybody when we are not in balance, it’s like in the airplane; first you put on your oxygen-mask, then you help others.
Warning signs of sress
Some signs to be aware of:
- Time keeps running out. There is never enough time or it seems to get shorter.
- Recurring or constant aches and pains. Are you taking more pain-killers?
- Sleeplessness or waking up exhausted after a nights sleep.
- Irregular or changed eating habits; constant hunger or lack of appetite. Weight-change.
- Increased intake of coffee, tea, carbs and sugars.
- Shortness of breath.
- Mood-swings; irritation, anger, sadness, impatience. Being under a black cloud.
- Mistakes; dropping things, pressing the wrong keys on the computer, bumping into things.
- Forgetful, absentminded, difficulty concentrating.
- Negative thought-patterns.
- Feeling ‘skin-less’ and unprotected. Whole world on your shoulders.
- Inability to experience joy.
- Losing interest in yourself.
The dis-ease of stress is something that creeps up on us and more often than not we are unaware of it. We just adapt, which is why stress is such a sneaky thing. Listen to the people close to you; often they are more aware of the changes that might occur, and this can help you to understand when it is time to take measures. Take some time out to get back on track, get help if you feel overwhelmed. Pay attention to yourself, don’t ever forget that you are the most important person in your life!