– First Published 29 June 2018
Stress is a heavily used word nowadays. Everyone between the ages of seven and seventy-seven seems to reckon they’re stressed in one way or another. Realistically they may be correct in their assessment, whether they are:
- a seven year-old going to the dentist;
- a seventeen year-old who has just broken off their first relationship;
- a twenty-seven year-old who is about to get married;
- a thirty-seven year-old juggling kids and a job;
- a forty-seven year-old handling teenagers, aging parents and running their own business;
- a fifty-seven year-old recovering from empty-nest syndrome, the loss of a parent and facing upcoming retirement;
- a sixty-seven year-old, recently retired and facing a new reality;
- a seventy-seven year old, dealing with the loss of their partner, the death of friends and the distance from children and family.
Every age and stage in life comes with stressors – challenges that require flexibility, strength and adaptability. Sometimes we struggle as we grow. Generally we naturally evolve from one phase of life to the next, developing our strength and wisdom along the way.
Wise as young children can be, it would be unrealistic to expect a seven year old to handle teenagers, aging parents and run a business. And yet somehow the forty-seven year old enjoys the challenges and takes everything in their stride. They may only begin to crumble under pressure when their marriage hits a rough patch.
Often we get early warning signs before the stress response fully kicks in – fight, flight or freeze. Once we recognize something is amiss, and identify that something as stress, we can begin to take stress busting steps to provide relief and reduce symptoms; learn strategies to handle our problems; develop skills to become stress resilient; and we can promise ourselves that we will be more vigilant in future. We will be kinder to ourselves and live with greater self- awareness, self-love, self-care and self-respect. Once we are able to manage the stress in our lives, we find that we can again handle challenges with ease.
Unlike the often gradual pressures of stress, trauma can suddenly shatter our reality. It shocks us deeply and can cause many surprising and unexpected reactions. Normally trauma happens to us (such as accident, flood or fire) rather than accumulating (such as caring for an elderly person or having a timeline/deadline for a project).
For example, abandonment, abuse and a house fire can all be traumatic experiences. Each one may produce different reactions within us. Abandonment may cause us to freeze with fear, abuse may make us fight for our lives and a house fire may cause us to run to safety. All these are stress responses.
However, after those same events we may reveal whether or not we have been traumatized. We may have flash backs, be unable to eat or drink, be unable to sleep, have panic attacks or frightening nightmares, fall into violent rages, feel unsafe or unrealistically afraid. These can all be responses to trauma.
Each one of us is unique. The speed and manner we recover from stressful and traumatic events is unique to us. There are specific techniques that can relieve the first stages of trauma. Many stress relief strategies can be applied for trauma as well as stress. So much depends on personality and history.
One of the most important things for stress and trauma recovery is to get good quality sleep. If sleep is an ongoing problem, I highly recommend that you seek advice from your healthcare professional. Sleep facilitates healing and after good sleep we normally feel refreshed.