Most mature students who are studying for a professional qualification, or taking a course to improve their knowledge of a specialist area, do so whilst still continuing with their full-time employment, or running their own business. This inevitably adds another pressure to what is already a busy life, at work and at home. Most professionals take distance learning courses which they have to study at home, and this reduces the time that they can spend with their partner or family, and reduces relaxation time away from the workplace. Added to this, most courses and qualifications have coursework, assignments, possibly examinations all with time deadlines and quality targets that must be achieved. As a result, the studying, in itself a very worthwhile personal development activity, can cause some students to suffer adversely from stress.
What is stress? Is it always damaging? Stress can be very damaging and can be very difficult to deal with.
Despite the overuse of the word by the many thousands who are not genuinely stressed, when a person is genuinely suffering from stress, it is a damaging and dangerous condition to be in, and action is essential.
Stress is pressure caused by the effect on ourselves that we experience as a result of interacting with our environment, for example, our workplace, colleagues, our family, our partner, social friends, and the activities that we are involved in, such as projects at work, social activities, and study activities. There can be positive and negative stress.
Positive stress can help us to achieve our goals, complete a project successfully, make effective changes to our working or personal lives. The pressures of taking on new challenges and activities, but being successful in them, can be motivating and result in feelings of excitement and fulfilment.
Negative stress is caused by the pressures around an individual becoming overwhelming, and then potentially damaging. Once the pressures become too intense, then the fear of failing and not coping add further pressures. This type of stress affects people in a negative, often harmful manner. Negative stress can result in our feeling frustration, resentment, anger, worthlessness, and despair, as well as causing a range of physical problems.
Why does stress affect different people in different ways? It is now accepted that stress affects different people in different ways. Pressures that can become too much for some people can be absorbed relatively easily by others. The reasons for this are many. One is basic personality differences, where one person sees the pressure as a challenge to overcome, whilst another will have doubts about their ability to cope and see the same pressure as threatening. A related, reason for this apparent difference is that the more positive person may have been better trained, or had previous experience to draw on, whilst the negative person is facing this pressure for the first time or has had a bad experience of it previously. Another reason is undoubtedly the complexity of the environment that surrounds each person. When an individual has most areas of their lives running smoothly then the pressure from a single event or area of their lives can often be managed without difficulty. The same event can be overwhelming for an individual who has many difficult situations current in their lives, which are already putting them under considerable pressure the last straw effect.
How can you tell if you are suffering from Stress? That’s sometimes difficult, but if you are: feeling depressed prone to outbursts of anger, feeling helpless and unable to cope, hate the thought of going into work, falling seriously behind with work or study deadlines, having difficulty concentrating, constantly in conflict with colleagues or your partner, eating too much, or drinking too much, experiencing headaches, muscular or chest pains, stomach troubles, losing interest in study or social activities that previously excited you finding that colleagues or family are expressing concern, the chances are that you are stressed. If you are, there is a strong chance also that you have other problems too, as the negative effects of stress can cause physical and mental problems to arise, if the stress is not addressed.
What can I do to manage my Stress? Stress can be effectively recognised and managed. The key is to understand our own signs of stress, select a few appropriate techniques to manage that stress, and then consistently use those techniques. One common characteristic of those who manage stress successfully and positively is that they all view stress, pressures, complexity, as an area of their lives that have to be managed, and they take defensive action if the pressures build to unreasonable levels.
If you are suffering from stress, take action! Now! Don’t wait a moment longer take action. Here are a few ways in which you can manage stress more successfully. They are not in order of priority but are offered as suggestions that can help you to prevent stress from damaging your life.
Recognise that stress may be affecting you or could do in the future.
1. Talk to someone you really trust face to face, or by telephone, letter, or even email
2. Take time out to play a sport, entertainment, family or friends activity
3. Eat a balanced diet whenever possible
4. Get plenty of sleep this helps you stay fresh and gives you more energy during the day
5. Exercise on a regular basis, it helps manage and prevent stress becoming a problem
6. Avoid self-medication with nicotine, alcohol or too much coffee
7. Try doing something for others - colleagues, friends, family or partner
8. Take one thing at a time when possible if not, don’t take on too much at the same time
9. Try to avoid unnecessary conflict, at work, home, and socially
10. Develop a hobby or interest as a counter-balance to stressful pressures
11. Don’t let work or family commitments become an addiction
12. Don’t feel guilty about taking time out for yourself you are important too
13. Don't put off relaxing - use a relaxation stress reduction technique daily
14. Know when you are tired and do something about it - take a break
15. Don't be afraid to say No! You won’t be respected if you say Yes but then make mistakes
16. Delegate responsibility and/or tasks where possible and appropriate
17. Learn manage your time better - you need a system that works for you, not against you
18. Plan ahead for workload and social activities to prevent too much pressure building up
19. Draw up an Action Plan to tackle the causes of your stress, stress is not usually caused by a single, large, problem - break it down into smaller pieces and deal with them individually
20. Set realistic targets, most stress causes are complex and cannot be eliminated immediately
21. Accept that some things you cannot change accept them or change direction to avoid them
22. When you are successful in making positive changes, even small ones reward yourself, be pleased with your achievement, and be realistic about achieving perfection none of us will ever be perfect.
Mild, manageable, stress helps us to achieve our time deadlines, get to appointments on time, remember important dates, and get those last minute details worked out on a project that is due tomorrow, perform to the best of our ability, and produce high-quality work. This is usually not what causes us to become "distressed" to suffer negatively from stress.
Sometimes too many minor stresses build up to create an unhealthy level of stress. What would, individually, be manageable, combines to become unmanageable and stressful. For example, more and more overlapping work activities, with impending time deadlines and high-quality targets, building up to the point where it is not possible for the individual to manage it all.
At other times, sadly, we will experience events that in themselves result in exceptionally high levels of stress - such as the loss of a loved one, losing a job or the ending of a relationship.
Adding a course of studies to the mix of pressures that affect mature, working professionals can raise stress levels to a high or potentially damaging level. Being aware of the dangers of negative stress, and how to manage stress, is essential. It is one of the many skills that is required by individuals aiming for successful personal and career development.
As the demands on professionals increase, in terms of performance in the workplace, having to show evidence of continuous personal development activity, and having to balance these with the demands of home and social lives has resulted in increased risk of developing negative stress.
The key to success is to recognise that Stress can be a dangerous enemy, to learn about it, and to find ways to manage it effectively. By taking preventative action, using some of the recognised stress management techniques, stress can usually be managed successfully.
Daniel Gale has written this piece on behalf of Mr Good Life, an online counselling service, Mental Health Blog and Mental Health Advocate. Follow them on Twitter