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Maintaining wellbeing in the face of long-term stress

Disasters, illness and other crises can create stress that lasts for a long time. Here are simple things you can do to look after yourself and others.

It can be difficult looking after yourself and feeling well when you are under pressure, especially over a long period of time. Life can be challenging and it is normal to feel stress sometimes. But longer term, stress does not resolve without direct action. This page contains information on stress and some practical tips on managing your stress levels.

Doing things that you enjoy in times of stress is not a luxury – it’s essential to manage your wellbeing.

Stress is the body’s way of creating the extra energy you need to work outside of your comfort zone. Stress can be particularly difficult to manage when you or your loved ones are coping with a number of different challenges, or when things have been tough for an extended period of time. 

Stress can be caused by any change, be it good or bad, within your life, or in the world more broadly. This could include:

  • any significant change in your life; the death of someone close, marriage, divorce, the birth or adoption of children, moving, starting a new job or study
  • illness, or the threat of illness for your or your loved ones
  • prolonged uncertainty about you and your loved ones future 
  • a state of fear in your community
  • environmental change
  • caring responsibilities  
  • financial or employment changes or insecurity 
  • changes in relationships
  • insomnia or other problems sleeping 
  • work pressure
  • increased demands on your time
  • the accumulation of seemingly smaller challenges

You will most likely have a range of feelings if you are continually under stress. Expressing your emotions does not mean you are out of control, weak or having a nervous breakdown. These feelings are reactions to challenging circumstances. The longer a person is under stress the more tension is stored in the mind and body. Some common feelings you might have: 

  • worry
  • fear
  • anger
  • tearfulness and easily upset
  • depression
  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • helplessness
  • exhaustion 
  • difficulties with concentration or memory
  • being overwhelmed

These feelings are normal.  It is important to give yourself space and time to feel these emotions. Everyone finds life tough sometimes. It can be helpful to recognise how you feel and react when under stress, so that you can manage it in a healthy way. 

Your body, as well as your mind, may be affected by stress. 

Common reactions include: 

  • heart palpitations
  • fatigue
  • sleep disturbance
  • insomnia
  • stomach upset including diarrhoea, nausea
  • frequent headaches
  • muscular aches and pains
  • weakened immune system
  • changes in libido
  • high blood pressure

These are signs of prolonged stress and are the body’s way of managing the ’high‘ as a result of  adrenaline we experience during times of increased stress. There are things you can do to manage these physical sensations and reduce the risk to your health.

Stress can sharpen our focus onto a single task. This can be helpful for short periods, but it can also mean that you dismiss or miss important tasks and neglect self-care. Under stress, we often prioritise ‘fixing’ the external problem, which is often out of our control. In this mindset, leisure and pleasure generally take a back seat, even though taking time out and enjoying life is what relieves stress, provides perspective and helps us to cope. 

Understanding the way you act when under stress can be very helpful, you will be able to identify when you and your loved ones need to take some time out and take more care of yourself. This might mean having wellbeing check-in reminders around your home or on your phone (e.g. reminders to take deep breaths, meditate or exercise). You might have regular check-ins with your loved ones to discuss energy and stress levels. Think through some easy measures to build in to your daily routine to help you cope with the challenges of everyday life.  You might find it helpful to focus on the things you can control if large parts of your life are not in your control.

Research tells us stress does not resolve without direct action, and reaching out to your loved ones and community is a great way to take action and combat your stress, this could mean: 

  • spending time with your loved ones through visits or regular phone or video calls 
  • reaching out to others you know who might also be coping with stress  
  • joining or starting a local community group, either in person, or online  
  • working with loved ones on a strategy to defuse difficult situations and deal with anger
  • writing letters to friends or loved ones 
  • arranging play dates for your children allowing you to connect with other parents if you are unable to travel, arrange for video sessions 
  • watching your favourite TV show or sport with friends, in person or online.  

Even with rest, stress tends to perpetuate unless deliberate steps are taken to address it. 

There are five actions that are proven to help people feel good and function well: 

  • connect
  • be active
  • take notice
  • keep learning
  • give to and help others 

Many simple pleasures will make a big difference to stress. They do not need to be very time consuming and many are free. Doing things that you enjoy in times of stress is not a luxury – it’s essential to manage your wellbeing. 

  • make the time to exercise
  • try meditation or mindfulness exercises
  • get outside, breathe the fresh air, feel the sunshine
  • challenge yourself to learn a new musical instrument or language
  • read a novel, newspaper, magazine or comic 
  • play board games, cards, or try virtual games of chess or scrabble
  • learn a new craft such as knitting or crochet, do some colouring or drawing
  • invest in indoor plants (real or fake) to brighten up your home
  • take a relaxing bath
  • try a new recipe 
  • learn something new through a course or be ready to help others with some first aid training online 

Looking after yourself and your family

Who is this for - People going through distress
Brief overview - Advice on managing distress, and supporting your family.


Rediplan

Who is this for - Everyone
Brief overview – You can reduce the impact of emergencies, big and small by being prepared.


Ways to stay hopeful during isolation

Who is this for - People who are physically isolated
Brief overview - Tips on ways to remain connected and hopeful through times of isolation (e.g. COVID-19)


Australian Psychological Society

Who is this for - Everyone
Brief overview - Information and resources on stress.


Phoenix Australia

Who is this for - People wanting information and support on trauma and post-traumatic stress.
Brief overview - Phoenix Australia Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health promotes recovery for the 15 million Australians affected by trauma.


Beyond Blue

Who is this for - People wanting information and support for anxiety, stress and depression
Brief overview - Tips and resources to help you look after your mental health, or support your loved ones.


Headspace

Who is this for - People aged 12-25, or those caring for them
Brief overview - Resources, information and support for people aged 12-25 and those caring for them.


Lifeline

Who is this for - People in need of crisis support, for them or their loved ones.
Brief overview - A 24-hour crisis support life to support people and prevent suicide.


Smiling Mind

Who is this for - Everyone
Brief overview - A free mobile phone application of guided mindfulness mediations with special programs for children, young people, families, and adults.

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