Do you find yourself feeling irritable and reactive?
Do you feel that people seem to be placing impossible demands on you, or you may be placing impossible demands on yourself? Parents, family, friends, bosses, work colleagues just expect you to act, deliver, present, turn up, and you feel they are not appreciative or respectful of just how difficult or time-consuming it is for you to do these things.
Do you feel unsupported or unmet in your lived experience of just how challenging it is at times to function in this world? No matter how much you do, there always seems to be more to do, and as regards the task you just completed, you feel it could have been done much better, or someone else thought it could be done better - grrrrrrhhh.
When you do get a break from tasks/chores/action items (however, you describe them in your world), there is no break, you can’t relax, as your mind becomes preoccupied with the undone tasks ahead. What’s more, oftentimes, you find you are doing stuff other people should have done—you always seem to find yourself cleaning up after someone else's mess!
The stress of it all !!!
Expectations …. Demands …. Challenges
You may have high expectations to meet and be under pressure to meet them. Is someone else telling you you are stressed? Does it compound your stress when someone else tells you you are stressed?
Meeting the challenges of this modern hectic world can take its toll, but you need not go under, you need not burn out, there is a way of staying sane and safe in the hectic Western world.
Many people have managed to put healthy self-care and self-soothing practices in place to help them navigate the hardships, stresses and strains of modern life. It is possible for you too to do likewise.
Usually, we experience stress when something is beyond our capacity to deliver (or perceived capacity) or some situation is beyond our capacity (or perceived capacity) to tolerate. As all challenging tasks and situations we encounter might not be avoidable, thankfully we do have the option of boosting our resilience or re-tuning our internal world to help us cope, manage and function better with these challenges and difficult situations.
Questions you can begin to ask yourself about your expectations of yourself, your expectations of others and others expectations of you: who gets to calibrate these expectations? You or others? And who decided the standard by which these expectations are met? Are you running off old unconscious automatic scripts embedded in your psyche from your childhood for instance? Do these conversations even take place internally within you, or externally with others? Maybe you carry a perfectionist within you who has no time for these questions and is too busy trying to impress and please all those around you—and you end up getting lost!
Psychotherapy is very helpful for opening a conversation around the questions posed above. In so doing, it can boost your resilience and self-belief; it can offer fresh perspectives. Additionally, new holistic models of human health are giving more weight to the impact of stress on our physical well-being, so psychotherapy can have a knock on effect on our physical condition.
Three phenomena usually lead to stress
Lack of control
Lack of information
Expectations beyond your capacity to safely deliver; by ‘safely’ I mean delivering without adverse impact to your own physical and mental health.
In therapy, you can also look at your relationship with ‘control’; maybe there is a space for some things to be surrendered. How does it feel to surrender something? Control is not always a bad thing. When you drive a car you need to control it, when you chair a meeting you need to control the order of business. When you cling to the levers of control with tension, that’s when ‘control’ can become an issue—something else is going on.
Living with lack of information or no information about a scenario can be a very insecure place. What happens in your internal world when you are faced with not knowing something? Or not knowing how an outcome will unfold? Does your stress turn into anxiety? What behaviours do you engage in to soothe or manage your insecurity? Are your behaviours a help or a hindrance?
In therapy, you can get a better understanding of your limitations and strengths and how effective your self-soothing behaviours are at giving you quality of life. You can learn to develop compassion and patience for your limitations and learn to honour and value your strengths.
You can develop awareness around healthier ways to soothe and relax yourself.
“I go at ninety to the dozen, that is just me, if I slow down, I might come to a complete stop, I just can’t have that, a lot of people depend on me”
The fear of slowing down, the fear of feeling, the fear of being unproductive. Slowing down may bring you into contact with feelings you just don’t want to feel. These can be conscious or unconscious forces at play in your psychological life contributing to self destructive or self negating behaviours. However, usually there is information embedded in the fear we experience and the exploration of fearful emotion can be invaluable in charting a new way of dealing with our stresses.
“I am a stress bunny, always have been, my parents always told me I would get stressed out about the most basic stuff, that's just the way I am”
While our genes play a role in the formation of our personalities, other forces are also at play such as our psychological values and the attitudes we have learnt to adopt from our family or our community. Our social environment also shapes our personalities - the new science of epigenetics tells us our genes can be turned on and off by the environment in which we live. Stress can be so much a part of your life that at this point it can be hard to imagine yourself without it. But change is possible; our genes have not necessarily predetermined our path from birth to death.
“But isn’t stress good for me? do I really want to get rid of it? I might become a lazy person and anyway I sometimes get a buzz out of pushing myself to the limit”
Stress may not be a black and white issue. Sometimes, consciously we can go over our limit knowing that it is a temporary extreme and some rest and relaxation will follow, so we can recover down the road. But sometimes we get hooked on the over-functioning, never taking that break and we end up burning out and sometimes, sadly, breaking down.
Countless people, whether suffering the stress of having to conform to their social or business environment, the stress of having to be part of organisations or systems whose values differ from their own, or the stress to simply make ends meet, have found psychotherapy a help and support with all these pressures.
I can't take any of my clients’ stress away but what I can do is facilitate a process where you come to a deeper understanding of yourself through exploration of your personal limits, strengths and capacities. You can develop self-compassion and learn to say ’no’ at times to the demands of others and ‘no’ at times to the demands placed on you by components of your own psychological life.
You can learn to say ‘Yes’ to you.
Maybe part of your stress dynamic means you have to do everything by yourself, so you may see the act of having to reach out and call a therapist as an act of failure. I actually view the contact that a client makes with me as a step towards growth in their psychological development. I see it as act of courage in trying to find a new way forward.
Contact me today for a free 15-minute phone consultation by clicking here to request a call back at a suitable time for you. Ask me any question you wish about therapy. After the call, you may decide to enter therapy or you may decide not to.
Either way, you will have moved the needle in a more proactive direction.
Written by Tadhg Hayes, MSc Integrative Counselling & Psychotherapy.
Psychotherapist working in South Dublin.
Here is a little video about managing stress: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnpQrMqDoqE