The word ‘stress’ is more common than ever and has become a part of our every day language. There’s little limit to the variety of situations we may now describe as stressful, from rushing to get ready for a night out, to working sixteen-hour days. Stress and how we feel and respond to it has always been relative, some of us thrive on it and others are destroyed by it. Whatever our reaction, using the word as a throw away one-size-fits-all description can in some cases do more harm than good. It could mean the difference between distinguishing when you’re a little out of sorts, and when you’re truly overwhelmed and actually ill.
Getting used to it
The danger of relating the word ‘stress’ to everyday situations and using it to describe a gambit of emotions is that we begin to take it for granted. We desensitise ourselves to the concept and can not only miss the drowning signals in ourselves, but also from other people who need help. Imagine having only one word to express all the many ranges of happiness that you experience. Now think about how many times you’ve used the word stressed to mean worried, upset, angry, confused, anxious etc. etc.
Spotting the differences
As unbelievable as it sounds, I’ve seen people who are no longer able to function describe themselves as a bit stressed. These are people who have had to begin taking prescribed medication because they can’t enter certain environments without having a panic attack, people unable to sleep more than two hours a night, or who wake up with a dread in their gut about the day ahead. All of us have watched friends self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, sex, food, these are people that we see are spiralling but who have not consciously acknowledged it themselves.
Listening and identifying
If you want to become better at identifying real problems that need addressing in yourself and listening out for friends or colleagues who may need help, try for a while to assess the language patterns being used. For yourself, think about a time you felt low levels of stress and then think of a time maybe when you felt out of control with it. How honest were you with how you described both states to yourself and to other people?
When you think about your own – or a friend’s – difficulties, ask yourself:
– How long does the stress last, or how long has it lasted?
– How frequent are the episodes?
– Is it triggered by specific situations or is it seemingly random?
– How does it make you feel physically?
– How do you recover from it, what’s your coping mechanism?
– Are you dependent on anything or anyone in order to help you deal with it?
If you’re uncomfortable with any of the answers you have to these questions, ask yourself one more:
Are you going to ignore it, or explore it deeper with someone?