Look over the symptoms list you put together. Which symptoms are causing you the most concern? Which ones are you worried about? Which could affect your life in the future if you didn’t do something now?
Review and put a star by any of your symptoms that require your immediate attention.
Ask yourself the following:
• Is there a pattern to my stress symptoms?
• Are more of my symptoms in one area (more physical, emotional, mental, spiritual or relational?)
• Which physical symptoms are you most concerned about? (stomach upsets, digestive problems, constant tight muscles, always getting sick, sleep issues, etc.) Do the same for each of the other areas.
• Are there any areas in your life symptom-free? (When you are relaxing with friends, exercise times, by yourself, etc.)
When do you experience more of your symptoms?
You may notice that you experience most of your symptoms while at work, or in your relationships, or concerns about your family or the future. Begin to identify when you experience higher levels of stress. Stress is cumulative and will affect you overall. We are looking for those times that increase your stress.
Enlarging the picture
Take a piece of paper and draw a picture of what you look like experiencing your stress symptoms. Have fun with it. Use words, symbols, stick figures, diagrams, or whatever you want to convey an overall perspective of what your life looks like with your stress.
Now draw spokes from your picture and pencil in all the things that are creating these stress symptoms in your life. Get a picture of what is happening.
Then complete the following:
• Right now, I am most concerned about. . . .
• During this exercise I am learning this about myself. . . .
• Because of this evaluation, I want to work on . . . .
Share your pictures and concerns with a good friend who will be honest with you. Ask her to help you identify negative habit patterns that you might not be aware of.
Don’t take offense. This is for your benefit so you can eliminate the things that are adding to your overall stress level. These might include learning how to reframe situations, challenge negative thinking and rigid beliefs, learn constructive communication, time management, anger management, etc. We will learn more about each of these in future blogs.
Remember, Chronic stress
• Keeps your immune system depressed so you are more susceptible to diseases and colds, etc.
• Can keep you constantly exhausted, unable to get sleep, cranky, irritable with symptoms of chest pains, headaches and depression
• Will suppress T-cell responses and lower antibody levels in the body which are necessary to develop a strong immunity to disease
The next step
Once we get a picture of the symptoms of our stress, what it is doing to us physically, mentally, emotionally and relationally, we can then begin to design a personal plan of action to eliminate or reduce these in our lives.
Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC