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Managing stress caused by major life events

September 11, 2023
Alexandra Hopkins

Most of us are used to dealing with mildly stressful situations fairly regularly, whether that’s a busy day at work, an unexpected bill or getting stuck in a traffic jam. Although these stressors can be inconvenient or uncomfortable in the short-term, they’re relatively easy to manage. However, when we undergo a major life event, we may face a prolonged period of stress which can be harder to navigate.

Major life events are significant moments in our lives which often bring drastic change. They could be things like moving house, going through a divorce, losing a job, a serious illness or retiring from work. Major life events tend to be stressful because they bring uncertainty and disruption to our usual routine. Even if the event is positive, like having or adopting a child, adjusting to such a big change can be difficult to start with.  

Take losing a job for example. This event comes with a lot of uncertainty and puts pressure on the person to find a new position quickly so their finances aren’t affected. Their daily routine will also change and may lack as much structure as it did before. Then, even when they start a new job, there’s an element of stress as they get to grips with their new role and meet their team.  

When your life is turned upside down for any reason, it can take a while to feel comfortable with your new normal and it’s natural for your stress levels to increase in the interim. You may feel very overwhelmed or like you’re unable to cope, and smaller stressors which you used to be able to manage may be harder to deal with.

We all have different stress thresholds; one person might find an event stressful, whereas another may be unbothered by it. Only you know if a situation has been stressful for you. When going through a major life event, it’s important to check in with yourself and assess how you’re coping. Too much stress for prolonged periods of time can lead to anxiety symptoms, like irritability and anger, or eventually, burnout.

Symptoms of stress

It’s a good idea to get to know the signs of stress so you can identify when you might be struggling and take action. More on stress awareness here.

Emotional symptoms:  

  • Feeling anxious  
  • Feeling down or depressed
  • Feeling irritable
  • Feeing agitated

Thoughts :

  • Getting stuck in negative thought cycles about yourself, other people or the world  
  • Thoughts of poor self-esteem and self-confidence.  
  • Experiencing unhelpful thinking patterns – for example catastrophising, over generalising and thinking “What if…”

Physical symptoms:

  • Muscle tension and clenching your jaw.
  • Tiredness
  • Headaches and blurred vision  
  • Chest pains and shortness of breath
  • Sweating more than usual
  • Sickness, constipation, diarrhoea
  • Brain fog leading to difficulty in making decisions, unable to concentrate and poor memory.  

Behavioural problems:

  • Using substances more frequently, for example, alcohol and tobacco
  • Unable to sleep.
  • Pacing
  • Withdrawing from your usual activities and hobbies  
  • Avoiding stressful situations, even when they need to be addressed.  
  • Procrastinating or the opposite doing too much  
  • Lack of motivation  

How to manage stress

  1. Set boundaries

When you’re going through big life changes, it takes a lot of energy to adjust to your new circumstances. This means that you have less capacity to do other things that you normally would, like seeing friends or keeping up with your usual commitments. Remember, when there’s a lot on your plate, it’s okay - and often necessary - to say no to things in order to protect yourself so that you don’t burn out.

  1. Get into a healthy routine

Taking care of yourself is so important, especially when you’re feeling stressed. When things feel chaotic, it can be a good idea to get into a routine to bring some order into your life. For example, getting enough sleep, waking up at a regular time and making time for self-care activities, like meditation or reading. It’s also important to get moving - research shows that working adults who exercise are less stressed than those who don’t.  

  1. Do something you enjoy

Take some time away from your to-do list and do something that you enjoy. This will help you to move away from negative feelings and focus on something positive so that you can de-stress. Perhaps you like gardening, yoga, seeing friends or going to the cinema. It doesn’t matter what the activity is, as long as you’re truly enjoying yourself, you’ll feel the benefits.

  1. Build your resilience  

Although it can be difficult to practise in the moment, when you’re going through a stressful situation, try to see it as an opportunity to learn how you can cope with it better next time. The more equipped you are to deal with pressures in your life, the less likely those pressures are to turn into feelings of stress. We’ve written more about this here.

  1. Get help if you need it

If you feel that you’re unable to manage feelings of stress, or stress is impacting your wellbeing, it could be time to seek professional help. You can talk to your GP about ways to manage stress, or you could refer yourself for talking therapy at ieso. ieso offers online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) that helps to challenge your ways of thinking and give you the tools to stay in control of your mental health. Find out more about what we do on our website.

ieso Online Therapy
This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.

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