• Dr. Rina De Klerk-Weyer

Grow more relaxed: how to recognise and manage stress

Just what we need! Clarity on what causes us stress, and practical ways to reduce the strain. Dr Rina de Klerk-Weyer considers the definition of stress, contributing factors, tell-tale signs, and pointers that can help us restore balance to our lives. “To me, a quote by W. James says it all: ‘The greatest weapon we have against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another,’” observes Dr. Rina de Klerk-Weyer, learning and development specialist and well-known authority on Emotional Intelligence. “Awareness of what causes us stress is the first step: the sooner we recognise it, the better we can manage it.” Below Rina offers us insights and recommendations from her coaching practice and from Emotional Intelligence: A workbook for your wellbeing, a guide she co-authored with Dr. Ronél le Roux. If you are bent on lowering your stress level, it’s a good idea to have your notebook ready and jot down factors applicable to you while reading the article. Is stress a bad thing? Although we may believe that stress is harmful and has a negative impact on our performance and growth, a certain amount of stress prompts us to function optimally. When you experience too little stress, you get bored. Too much stress, on the other hand, may cause anxiety or lead to other detrimental outcomes. The stressors you experience may be:

  • Fairly brief and of low intensity - for instance, having mislaid your movie tickets.

  • Moderate, such as unexpectedly having to work over-time

  • Intense, e.g. getting divorced or having financial problems.

Of course, each person’s reaction to certain stressors is unique. How can stress be defined? Put simply, stress is the result of the need to adapt to internal or external circumstances which leave us feeling out of balance. Or, put a little differently: stress is the physical, emotional and psychological impact and behavioural response of a person seeking to adapt and adjust to internal and external procedures and demands that impact their balance. It is important to remember that stress is a secondary emotion. It actually stems from a primary emotion, such as worry or fear. Which factors can cause stress? We can distinguish between external, internal and interpersonal causes of stress. See how many of these are present in your day-to-day life. 1. External causes of stress

  • At home

These include daily irritations, relationship difficulties, divorce, confrontations, health problems, financial restraints, and moving. Image: Pexels

  • At work

These include a lack of teamwork, unclear expectations, confused communication, an uncooperative atmosphere, deadlines, autocratic leadership, a new job, lack of security, unemployment or retirement.

  • Other causes:

These include unexpected news of any kind, study pressures, heavy traffic, legal problems, or a lack of security in general. 2. Internal or emotional sources of stress These can involve feelings of personal insecurity, fear of the new / unknown, fear of conflict, fear of taking a risk, low self-esteem, fear of being judged, a need of approval, a lack of tolerance regarding ambiguity, chronic guilt, unresolved grief, poor social skills, being overly competitive, an inability to set realistic goals, feeling unable to cope with life, or fear of death – your own death, or that of others. 3. Interpersonal causes of stress These include a lack of healthy communication or a lack of adequate support in relationships, threats of rejection or disapproval, a struggle for power or control in relationships, chronic conflict, or disagreement with no healthy resolution. Image: Pexels Other factors are over-dependency of one partner, poor intimacy or sexual relationship, a troubled person who refuses to recognise the need for help, pregnancy, a new marriage, a lack of trust between partners, or constant criticism from one partner. Resilience is a valuable skill during trying times. Dr Rina de Klerk-Weyer explains how to develop yours. How does stress show up in your life? Stress does not only affect us physically; it also has major emotional and relationship consequences. 1. Physical signs of stress: These may include general aches and pains, frequent headaches, fatigue, palpitations, dizziness, sweaty palms, skin complaints, shortness of breath, dryness of the mouth, frequent heartburn, chronic diarrhoea or constipation, a daily need for pain killers or other medication, muscle spasms, tightness in the neck or back, high blood pressure, an inability to sleep, sexual dysfunction, excess weight or being underweight for your age and height, a lack of appetite, a desire to eat when problems arise, or trembling. 2. Emotional signs of stress These could include anxiety, unproductive worry, feeling depressed, overwhelmed, helpless or confused, irritability, a sense of suppressed anger, an inability to have a good laugh, dread as the weekend either approaches or draws to an end, feeling frustrated, boredom with life, over-sensitivity, feeling critical of yourself or others, crying or sadness, an inability to cry although you wish to, or frequent mood swings. 3. Cognitive signs of stress These may include forgetfulness, an inability to concentrate for any length of time, having a mental block, difficulty in making decisions or organising, confusion, or starting a new task before completing the first one. 4. Behavioural signs of stress These may include withdrawing from relationships, smoking or drinking excessively, outbursts involving yelling or arguing, a lack of confidence, eating too much, chewing your fingernails, repetitive movements like tapping your fingers or feet, over-reacting, acting on impulse, using drugs, avoiding people or responsibilities, or changing jobs often. Actions you can take to attain balance There are physical, spiritual/religious, psychological/emotional, social and intellectual steps you can take to lower your stress level. Consider what would work for you. 1. Physical actions These may include exercising, relaxation exercises such as yoga, meditation or deep breathing, becoming involved in sport, music or art, attending to medical problems, slowing down, reading, taking a relaxing bath or shower, sleeping for 7 to 9 hours each night (not in front of the television or close to your cell phone on account of electromagnetic fields), ensuring enough natural light (not necessarily direct sunlight), spending time in nature, adding blue or green to your environment as these colours are important for optimal brain functioning, surrounding yourself with natural materials like wood and cane, and ensuring that your sensual and sexual needs are met through hugging and touch. 2. Spiritual/religious actions These include pondering the meaning and purpose of life, me-time, prayer or meditation, and considering your tasks regarding yourself and others in the light of your mission. Talking to loved ones about death needn’t be daunting. Here’s how to approach this topic. 3. Psychological/emotional actions These could include self-awareness, verbalising your feelings, improving your self-knowledge, being flexible and learning from experience, exercising emotional control, being accepting and forgiving, honing your sense of humour, being resilient, focusing on self-care, and slowing down. 4. Social actions These may include developing your interpersonal skills, practicing listening skills, self-assertiveness, self-disclosure, facilitative questioning, empathising, validating, restoring relationships, practicing forgiveness, attending to social support systems, community involvement, and eliminating circumstances that cause problems. 5. Intellectual actions These may include visualisation, assessing assumptions, changing negative thought patterns, improving skills where necessary, engaging in training, prioritising tasks, setting realistic goals, accepting responsibility for your own life, and managing your lifestyle and your time. Your action plan You could create a plan of action by listing: Image: Pexels 1. External, internal and interpersonal factors causing your stress. 2. Noting the primary emotion underlying the stress response connected to each factor. 3. Choosing a small number of intense stressors and noting the physical, emotional, cognitive and behavioural stress signs each stressor evokes; 4. Asking yourself the following questions:

  • Can I change this stressor?

  • Must a learn a new skill to cope with this stressor?

  • Must I start to think differently in order to deal with this stressor, or

  • Must I let it go, because it is out of my control to change it?

5. Deciding on the first action step - physical, spiritual/religious, psychological/emotional, social or intellectual – that you can use to address each stressor. 6. Making the personal commitment to follow through on your decision by

  • visualising the desired outcome

  • getting a support system

  • giving yourself recognition for small successes and

  • having a daily visual reminder of your goal.

Once this technique is familiar, it becomes easy to implement. Emotional Intelligence: A workbook for your wellbeing by Dr. Rina de Klerk-Weyer and Dr. Ronél le Roux, available at

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