Samantha went out to work one day, even though she didn’t feel so good. She’d already been to the doctors the week before (he’d said there was nothing wrong with her), but every day she felt more tired, sick, headachey and just…not really herself. Her friend told her she’d snapped a couple of times, although Samantha didn’t remember it, and she’d become more withdrawn preferring just to crawl in to bed after a long day at work.
When Samantha arrived at work that day, she noticed she was a few minutes late. As she got to her desk, she looked up and saw that her boss was looking at her, with what she described as an ‘angry look.’ Her ‘phone rang, her boss asked her to meet in the HR office in 15 minutes. Samantha’s heart began to race, her palms became sweaty and her mouth seemed suddenly very dry. “What is my boss going to say to me?”, she thought, “am I in trouble for being a little bit late?”
Samantha arrived in the HR office on time and was prepared to get in to a fight: how dare her boss criticise her for being a few minutes later than usual, she’s normally always on time and has been working all those extra hours lately! That recent project seemed to be going really well – surely that counted for something! By now her heart was pounding, and Samantha felt her fists clench as she walked through the door. “Hi Samantha”, said her boss, “thanks for coming in. That project you’ve been working on has really taken off, so we’d like to offer you a pay rise and a promotion. How do you feel about that?” Samantha fainted.
This story is one I use on my workshops when I talk about how we respond to threats today – or at least, what we perceive as threats – as part of a natural response called ‘fight or flight’.
In this hypothetical case, Samantha is like many people suffering with stress, and her body is telling her it’s time to do something about it. The symptoms she had and the way she responded when under pressure – or what she saw as pressure – were a call for help, even though her stress was ‘silent’, in that she didn’t realise how badly she’d been affected. We know that stress can have a huge impact, not just on our mental health but physical health too. It can take its toll and soon seem like the enemy.
Everyone’s different, and so we experience stress in different ways; what some people find stressful, others don’t. Samantha had reached her limit. It turns out, so had her boss. The reason she’d given Samantha an ‘angry look’ was because she’d had an argument before she left the house that morning, and it was playing on her mind. Her anger had nothing to do with Samantha at all.
What can you do about stress?
Raising your awareness to what’s causing you stress can be helpful, but if you already know what’s causing it, you may need to start making a plan as to what you can do about it.
- Visiting your doctor is a first step, so they can rule out possible causes of any physical symptoms you have, and then if they diagnose stress they may ask you if you’d like some time off to find ways to manage it.
- Sharing the load can be useful. You could try talking to your manager if you’re feeling over-loaded or reaching out to friends or family members for help, so you can have time to relax. If you’re nervous speaking to your family about your mental health, Heads Together have some great tips for talking. Talking to someone impartial can also be useful.
- Finding ways to relax that help you are important – not everyone relaxes in the same way. Whether it’s a bike ride or reading a book, find something that works for you and schedule time in your diary to make sure it happens. Mindfulness is a useful technique for reducing stress.
©️ Delphi Ellis 2016-19
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