Stress-management: Deal with symptoms of stress
Ask for examples of stress-management strategies
A range of stress-management strategies are listed below, but it is helpful to ask participants to think of their own strategies first. You could explain to participants like this: “Sometimes there is little we can do to deal with the cause of stress, for example, if it is caused by a civil war that is going on. But we can take steps to help reduce the symptoms of stress which we have. Doing what we can to help ourselves relax and cope with stress will make a difference to our daily lives and relationships, and will help us work more effectively.”
Referring to the example of the boiling pot earlier, ask participants what helps them to ‘lift off the lid’ and deal with stress, Try to find out what are the culturally acceptable ways of overcoming difficulties. It is useful to find out what people generally do to relax in the culture concerned. Support the things they find helpful. Ask them to come up with examples – what have they found helpful in the past?
An example related to walking
In some countries many people find it helpful to go for a walk, but to suggest that as a self-care strategy in another culture might be less appropriate. For example, in some areas walking is perceived as a sign of poverty, while in other places people have to do physical activity during their normal day, but do not understand the concept of exercising ‘for fun’, as they try to conserve energy when they can. In some cultures it is too hot or too unsafe to walk outside.
Give examples of stress-management strategies
Here are some stress-management strategies you may wish to discuss.
Different people find different techniques useful for coping with stress. Below are some strategies that many people find helpful. It is a good idea to try a few strategies from each of the five categories.
Be self-aware, and spot when you have symptoms of stress. View those symptoms as a warning sign to encourage you to take stock and look after yourself.
Physical exercise is a natural anti-depressant, and helps to relieve tension. Find an activity you enjoy, like walking, swimming, running, cycling (outside, or on a stationary bike), playing sports, working out with an aerobics video, gardening, or even chopping wood!
Eat a balanced diet with plenty of vitamins. Ensure you are eating enough (for energy), but don’t overeat.
Relaxation exercises can help your body feel more relaxed and take away aches and pains. Try tensing and relaxing your muscle groups (e.g. your hands, then your eyes, mouth, stomach, toes, etc).
Reduce your alcohol and caffeine intake, as these tend to magnify feelings of stress or depression.
Get enough sleep. Stress is tiring, so you may need to sleep for longer than usual. Having a banana or cup of milk before bed may help.
If you are having severe sleeping problems or feeling depressed all the time, you might benefit from taking medication for a while. Speak to a doctor about this.
Write in a journal, including your thoughts and feelings. Or, if you prefer, write emails or letters, or tape your thoughts, or talk to someone about them. This helps you process your experiences, and stops their going round and round in your head.
Talk to friends/family/colleagues about your experiences.
Allow yourself to cry if you want to. Emotional tears contain a stress hormone, so crying helps people feel better.
Smiling and laughing can help you feel better. Try watching a funny movie, reading something amusing, or having a laugh with friends.
If you feel very distressed, consider seeking help from your doctor or a professional mental health worker, such as a counselor.
Participate in activities that help you relax or that you enjoy. For example, chat with friends; watch videos; go to a place you like; read; have a relaxing bath; listen to music; draw; or do cross-stitch.
Don’t isolate yourself. Spend time with people you like.
Give yourself treats; be kind to yourself.
If you feel overwhelmed by having too much to do, try to set yourself small goals and just focus on doing one thing (perhaps starting with an easy task). Prioritize.
Be assertive. Delegate tasks, and ask for time off if you need it. Be willing to ask for help.
- Realize it is normal to feel low or have symptoms of stress when involved in humanitarian work. Don’t blame yourself – most people have such symptoms. It is not a sign of weakness, and does not mean that you are ‘not coping.’
- Remember that these feelings pass, and you will feel better.
- Lower your expectations of yourself. You don’t have to do everything perfectly.
- Don’t become too introspective, or spend long periods of time dwelling on your worries.
- If you have negative thoughts (e.g. ‘I’m really bad at this job’), try to speak to someone else to get an objective, external perspective. Negative thoughts may be a sign of stress or depression, rather than reality.
- Remind yourself of times you have coped with stress before, and what helped you then. ‘Success breeds success’ – remembering past times of coping helps you to cope again.
- Remind yourself of the value of the work you are doing.
- Remember the good things in the world – the people who are helping others, etc.
- If you have spiritual beliefs, use these to help you gain a sense of perspective and meaning.
- Talk with others who share your beliefs or values, or read some books which help sustain your inner life.
- If you have questions about the meaning of life or why there is suffering, find people to talk to (or email) about these matters.
- Pray, or ask people to pray for you.
- If necessary, forgive yourself or other people.
- If you find it helpful, remind yourself that there will be a day when you will no longer know any suffering, pain, sorrow or tears.
Click here to download this list as a handout in English or Spanish.
Help participants identify stress-management strategies that will work for them
Some of these stress-management strategies may need to be learned, or adapted. Here are some things you can do to help participants identify which stress-management strategies may work well for them.
Discuss the stress-management strategies listed above. In addition, here are two themes or topics you might want to discuss with the group or have them discuss together:
- Work-life balance and the importance of taking regular breaks away from work. Is there a good balance between the time you spend working, and the time you spend on the rest of your life? Do you spend enough time with your family and friends? Do you have enough time away from work to eat, sleep, rest, and enjoy yourself? Or you do you spend so much time at work that you have no time for anything else? What helps or hinders you in balancing your work with the rest of your life?
- Team stress-management strategies. What can you do to help each other as a team put all this learning into practice? For example, what do you think about having an ‘away day’ once every six months where you go away from the workplace and have fun together? Or one-hour meetings every two weeks where you all have a chance to share any stress you are under and offer each other support, pray for each other, etc? Would such meetings add to your stress by making you feel bad about the work you are not doing during those times, or might meetings like these reduce stress by helping you to get to know one another better and resolve issues that arise during your work? What else could the NGO do to help?
Use examples familiar in the culture
Give an example from someone they respect. For example, if you are working in a culture which respects Elijah (Elias) the prophet, tell the story of Elijah under stress. (This might be appropriate in Islamic, Jewish, and Christian cultures, but check first if you are unsure).
Elijah’s story is told in 1 Kings 19: 1-18 in the Bible. What helped Elijah deal with stress? Each of the answers below can be found in the passage. Notice how the word ‘stress’ is spelt out by the answers, to help people remember the points. Perhaps ask participants to mime the story as you read.
Talking about what happened (telling his story not just once, but twice)
Rest & relaxation (under a tree)
Exercise (walking though the desert) and eating well
Support (discovering people to delegate to, and that there were 7000 prophets left – he wasn’t isolated, as he had thought)
Spiritual resources / silence
Teach relaxation exercises
Follow this link for a handout about relaxation exercises.
Rather than simply giving this handout to participants, it would be good if the trainer demonstrates the exercises and gets the group to join in with them. The handout, or a cassette recording of the information, could be provided afterwards, as a reminder of the exercise. To hear an audio recording of relaxation exercises, go to www.glasgowsteps.com/downloads/audio.jsp.
Making stress-management strategies memorable
To make the stress-management strategies more memorable, you might want to provide some prizes to illustrate some of the strategies:
- 1. A notebook to use as a journal;
- A diary to plan ahead times for rest;
- A book;
- A music tape or CD;
- Luxury soap or bubble bath;
- A carton of mango juice;
- Decaffeinated coffee (note the drawbacks of caffeine);
- A banana;
- Tissues for tears;
- An amusing DVD;
- Treats such as chocolate;
- A spiritual book.
Ensure these are suitable for this group and give them out as prizes at the end of the day.
Stop and Think
- Which stress-management strategies work best for you?
- Which do you think work best for your national staff?
- Find any that will not work in the culture. Can you suggest an alternative strategy that would work instead?
Next: Ending the training