?Someone lying on a grey counch with a blue fuzzy blanket pulled over their head

[Adapted from the Resource Guide for Volunteer Family Guides]

Most people do not know how unrelieved stress affects them. The first step in managing stress is to recognize how your body reacts to it. Once you recognize this reaction, you can begin to use self-care techniques to relieve the stress.

Many of the common symptoms of unrelieved stress are listed below. Which ones apply to you?

Physical symptoms: Feeling dizzy, feeling tired all the time, headaches, loss of sexual drive, loss or increase in weight, muscle aches or back pain, diarrhea or constipation. Emotional symptoms: feeling angry or hostile toward others, feeling anxious, restless, feeling'blue' with little interest in anything, impatience or frustration, irritability. Behavioural symptoms: avoiding responsibilities, being late for work frequently, crying frequently, eating too much or too little, having no interest in social activities, increased use of alcohol or smoking, letting personal appearance and hygiene decline, overreacting to things.

Identifying stress triggers

Once you have identified how your body reacts to stress, you need to identify what sets off this response. The “what” are called triggers.

Think about what causes you to feel stress. Your unique journey brings many triggers that cause stress such as:

  • Anniversaries, birthdays, weddings and holidays, and the time leading up to them
  • Preoccupation with your own grief and loss
  • Feelings of inadequate time to do all the things you need to do

Coping with triggers and stress

When you become aware of the triggers of your stress, you can begin to manage them more effectively. There are basically two ways to cope with these triggers:

  • You can act on things that you have control over, or
  • You can recognize or accept that these triggers will always be part of your journey and cannot be changed.

What works best depends on your coping style. People use three main coping styles in response to unrelieved stress:

  • Task orientation – taking action to deal directly with the situation
  • Emotion orientation – dealing with your feelings and finding social supports, and
  • Distraction – using activities or work to take your mind off the situation.

How would you describe your coping style? It may be a combination of all three styles. If your style works for you, continue to use and develop it. But if your method is not helping, stop using it and begin to develop coping skills that will be more beneficial. If necessary, ask for professional help.

Susan Haldane