Stress is commonly understood to be a result of an individual experience of excessive pressure, with ‘stressors’ being the term used to describe an event, action or other element that directly triggers or contributes to such an experience. It is vital to note that everyone has different stressors and the ability to handle excessive pressure can fluctuate due to many variables. For example, a high-pressured task may be easier to manage at the beginning of the day, following a good night’s sleep than at the end of the day when energy levels may be lower, furthermore, pressure itself does not always result in a negative outcome, in fact, the right level of pressure is well documented to increases productivity and motivation.
Identifying your individual stressors and learning the skills to help manage them is crucial for supporting job satisfaction, a work-life balance, and our overall health. This is because when an individual is exposed to a high level of stress, our body releases hormones and glucose to support us in a fight or flight response. While in the short term this response is beneficial for supporting an individual in managing the stressful situation, in the long term continued exposure can drain our energy, increasing the risk of health-related problems such as tension headaches and high blood pressure.
Reflection is a key tool for successful identification and management of stressors. When reflecting on a stressful event, you think back on what happened, why it happened, who was involved and how you dealt with it. Consider if you could have handled it differently to obtain better outcomes. Reflection-on-action requires critical thinking, involving analysis and evaluation, without the emotional biases that can prevent clear thinking. It means going beyond the surface of things and deconstructing an event or events as rationally as you can.
An NHS recommended activity for supporting reflection, is to complete a three-week self-report diary. This strategy encourages individuals to record the following information:
- Date, time, and location of stressful event
- What you were doing at the time
- Who you were with at the time?
- Your emotional response
- Your physical response i.e., sweating/crying
- Your response and the outcome
It is recommended that you record as many events as possible, including both minor stress and high stress events, to support you in properly understanding your individual triggers and response priorities. This exercise will allow you to identify any common stressors and fuel a stress management plan.
The effectiveness of each management strategy depends on the type of stressor you are dealing with. For example, if the stressor can be modified or eliminated, the most effective strategies will be focussed on the individual stressor; however, when the stressors cannot be changed, trying to eliminate it can increase a sense of losing control and therefore increase stress. In these circumstances, the most effective approach involves combining an emotion-focused strategy (i.e., trying to reduce the impact of negative feelings) with social support strategies.