Managing Stress

What is Stress?

In the 1930s Hans Selye’s began looking at the cause and impact of stress. His work, and the work of many others, indicates that stress:

  • Has a variety of causes – psychological, situational, environmental, biological, organisational (e.g. “red tape”) and social.
  • Has a variety of effects – physical illness, exhaustion, confusion, depression and isolation.
  • Has variables that increase or decrease the likelihood and impact of stress – such as individual make-up, culture, environment and lifestyle.

Some examples of clues we are stressed

Mind    forgetting things, finding it hard to make decisions, confusion and taking everything very seriously.
Body headache, muscle tension, exhaustion, altered sleep patterns, cramps, pains, nausea, flushing, racing heart and frequent illness.
Emotional/Social getting irritated often, being impatient, constant frustration, anger, worry, fear, nervousness, depression  or feeling isolated.
Behavioural increased eating/drinking, pacing, crying, fidgeting, blaming or yelling.

How we can manage stress?

Prevent stress happening – being pro-active

  • Find out what is causing your stress and do things differently. We can change the way we respond to some things and this may eliminate the cause of the stress e.g. instead of always saying “yes” to some people we can take a moment and decide whether we really do want to do something
  • Be aware of our own needs and do some things for ourselves. When we do some things for ourselves we can end up feeling clearer, stronger and supported (altering how we feel).  It is not ‘selfish’ to take time out to look after ourselves.  When we look after ourselves we are then able to better look after others.

Twelve suggestions for stress management


  1. Explore your belief system
  2. Have realistic expectations
  3. Set achievable goals
  4. Learn how to reframe situations


  1. Eat well
  2. Exercise
  3. Sleep well
  4. Relax


  1. Laugh regularly
  2. Build a support system
  3. Have leisure activities
  4. Consider professional assistance at times

Belief Systems

What we choose to believe about ourselves, others, and our situation will affect our stress levels and our ability to reduce stress. How we think about things will help shape our behaviour and may actually cause avoidable stress.

As carers and whānau we may be really busy and not take time to think about the origin (beliefs/values) of our actions. To clarify what we believe may assist us to gain perspective.

For example:

If I believe “nobody understands the pressures I face”, then I am unlikely to feel the relief of talking with people who could support me.

 If I believe “government agencies don’t provide resources“, then I may not discover financial resources that are available to me.

 If I believe “I must put other people’s needs before mine“, then I will not take the steps to keep myself healthy.

Realistic Expectations

If what we expect is possible or likely then we will find our world more predictable.

There will be less pressure on me, as a carer or whānau, to attempt the impossible.

If we have realistic expectations then we will reduce any sense of failure. If we can increase our sense of control over what is happening then we can pace ourselves and have the sense that we are meeting our obligations. It may be that we are not able to do all the things we expect of ourselves (creating distress) so, if the situation is unchangeable, we may need to change our expectations.

Achievable Goals

As carers and whānau we may get into a way of doing things where we are constantly responding to demands or doing the same thing day after day. It can be valuable to take a break and decide ‘what’ we want to achieve and ‘how’ we are going to do this.

The individual/s who we are caring for may have consistent needs but we might discover a way to do things differently.

If we take the time to develop goals then we can plan our time, organise our resources and check our progress. When we set goals we need to be kind to ourselves. Any goals should be things we actually want to achieve. It can be helpful to set some parameters around how you will know when you (or your family member) has been successful.

Reframing Situations

Is the cupboard half empty or half full?

How we frame situations can make the difference regarding the attitudes we carry and the amount of energy we have.

To be faced with a “problem” is different to meeting a “challenge”.  It can be the same situation but a very different way of looking at it. We can dwell on what “isn’t” – but, it is worthwhile thinking about “what can be”.  Taking a moment to think about what we want to work towards can give us new direction and energy.  We can think of things as a “problem” or think about the same situation as a “potential” for change.

Attempting to see things in a constructive light can reduce stress.

Eating Well

Having a well balanced diet, decreasing caffeine (e.g. coffee, tea), junk food and eating slowly will increase our ability to respond to stress. We need to ensure that our body is well nourished so that we have the energy to provide care. If our body is depleted then a chemist/natural health store can assist us to decide if a vitamin or mineral supplement would be beneficial.


Stress can place the body in a state of high alert (increased heart rate and blood pressure, quicker shallow breathing, adrenalin release and hormone change). If we can not change the circumstance then we need to let the energy out somewhere else.

Exercise can release this energy and strengthen the bodies response for “next time”. It is ideal to have regular aerobic exercise eg. walking, swimming, dancing. A half an hours walk each day may noticeably increase the energy we have for the rest of the day.


Finding it difficult to sleep is a cause and sometimes an effect of stress. To “break the cycle” small changes in sleep patterns may need to be made.

On average adults require about 7-8 hours sleep each night. Some people  consider that it is most effective to try and get to sleep 30 to 60 minutes earlier each night than to try and sleep later.

Unless we have a specific medical condition, we know we are getting enough sleep when we wake naturally (ie before an alarm), feel refreshed when we wake and do not feel the need to sleep during the day.

Relaxation Techniques

When we are stressed our bodies are ready for action (see exercise). Some techniques are useful as they slow the pulse, decrease blood pressure, enable us to breathe deeply again and relax tensed muscles.

There are “natural” ways to relax (sit by a fire/river, pat a cat, go for a slow walk) or ways that we can “learn” how to put ourselves in a place of deep relaxation. Many of these techniques involve posture, breathing or visualisation and research indicates that these techniques can be very restful.  Other things we can do include: getting a massage, having a long bath or listening to some types of music.


Having a good laugh can release energy and relieves tension. Spend some time with a friend who laughs or discover a TV programme you find funny.

Support Systems

Being a carer  or whānau can be isolating as well as hard work. Discovering or build a network of people who appreciate what we are involved in can provide us with a place where we are nurtured. Support systems can be informal or formal. The question we need to ask ourselves is “when I link with these people am I receiving something from the experience”.

Leisure Activities

The word leisure come from the latin word “licere” which means “permission”. To effectively manage stress we need to allow ourselves to let go and do something that is enjoyable and refreshing.

There can be a link between the amount of leisure time (self directed) and level of distress. This is another “cycle breaker”. It is possible that the more leisure time a person has the more effective they will be as a carer or whānau . If there is a lack of balance then a person may be less effective and require more time to do the same thing.

It can be difficult to create time for yourself!  You may feel there is NO spare time. Life is already too hectic, too busy. Time for ourselves or leisure pursuits is often the first thing to go. Try to find something that you enjoy and work it into your day/week.  Even if it is a for a short time. You will feel better for it.

Sometimes our belief systems need to be examined. If we want our caring/giving to others to be effective, we are required to give to ourselves.

Professional Assistance

There may be times when we can not be “realistically expected” to manage all the things in our lives.

The demands on our time and energy may be greater than our skills and resources.

From time to time it is healthy to request assistance from people who are “paid to support” – either for ourselves or the person we are caring for. This is not an admission of failure, but a positive step in providing good care.

Helpful Websites

Tips for managing stress

The Mental Health Foundation has a vast range of topics including suicide and depression and provides a list of helplines and services.

0800 What’s Up is a helpline for kids, teens and adults which provides a safe place to talk about anything.

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