Own and Conquer Stress
A Self-Help Guide written for (and by) Gamers
Stress: The Basics
What is Stress?
Stress literally means, “pressure or tension exerted on a physical object” – in the case of psychological stress, the physical object is you!
Stress is something we all experience. It is a normal part of life. In fact, stress is actually useful in certain circumstances, and it is a part of how we have evolved to deal with the challenges we face. For example, the stress of a changing environment can help provide the motivation and adaptability we need to succeed even in unstable conditions. If we did not have stress, we would not have thrived as species.
Even in modern life, “positive stress” can help us complete tasks at work, rise to new challenges, and achieve great things athletically. However, stress becomes a problem when the person experiencing feels like the pressure is more than they can handle, or cope with.
What we experience during times of stress is a combination of physical, biological processes and psychological reactions.
The Biological Response
Stress is part of the body’s “ﬁght or ﬂight” reaction. This is something that had kept humans safe from predators, environmental hazards, and other life-threatening things to improve chances of survival. That of course is very useful when faced with a sabre-tooth tiger, but not so much when sitting in fro of a computer trying to write an essay!
The “ﬁght or ﬂight” response is the body getting ready – either to ﬁght, or run for your life. It is something that happens without our control, though the response can be modiﬁed consciously over time with practise. It happens deep within us and comes in a few stages.
Alarm / Resistance
This is when the body gets itself ready. Our brains tell the body to release powerful hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol. These travel in the blood to other organs, muscles, and back to the brain. They cause our heart to pump faster and increase blood pressure, so the muscles have enough oxygen to increase workload. They slow down the process of digestion, and other “non-urgent” bodi processes. And they tell our brain to be hyper-focused, alert and keep a close eye out for threats.
If the stress continues until all of those hormones are used up, we become exhausted. This means we need to recover – we are like a car with no fuel. The body becomes far more susceptible to illness, and it is easier to catch a cold or ﬂu. We may feel more anxious or irritable, and ﬁnd it hard to sleep (or hard to get up!)
If this is process is chronic (lasts for a long time without a break, or happens repeatedly) there can be long term eﬀects. We’ll talk about those later.
What Stress Feels Like
How long is a piece of string?
Stress isn’t something you can easily see or measure. Some people can tell when they are stressed, and others can’t. If left unchecked, chronic stress can lead to burnout and all sorts of issues, so it is important to understand what it might feel like and how to recognise it.
Possible Symptoms of Current Stress
- Feeling tense and pent up
- Feeling irritable, short tempered, moody Diﬃculty concentrating or thinking straight
- Impulsive responses like snapping at people
- Anxiety, worry
- Negative thoughts, like “I can’t do this”, “this is too much” etc
- Panic or the strong urge to get away from the source of stress
- Fast heart rate, fast breathing
- Tightness in the stomach or abdomen
- Teeth clenching
- Dry mouth
Causes of Stress
Knowing what causes stress can help us to identify it when it happens. If you are going through one of these things, you can be aware that your stress levels might rise, and keep an eye out for the symptoms. This is an important way of managing future stress.
This generally means things like natural disasters, war, homelessness and similar events. It can also include jobs like those in the military who see major combat, and traumatic events like assault and major accidents.
Major life events
All big changes in life can cause stress. Even the good ones! Big events are often things like moving house, getting married or divorced, having a baby, changing jobs, having surgery, the death of a loved one, and more.
Every day life can have its ups and downs. Financial hardship, high workload, relationship diﬃculties – these are things most of us ﬁnd stressful. Then there are others daily irritations that some people don’t mind, and others perceive as unbearable – like traﬃc jams, technical issues, paying bills, etc. What grinds your gears?
These are background inconveniences or annoyances that might hinder everyday life, but that there is little to be done about – like bad weather, noise, pollution.
You may believe that stress is always brought on by things happening to you, but actually there are a lot of reasons it might be caused by things inside you. The way we think and respond to situations can dictate how stressed we feel, and whether we interpret stressors as positive or negative. In the long run, negative stress can be far worse for you. Here are some of the internal risk factors:
- Chronic worry
- Rigid thinking, lack of ﬂexibility
- Negative self-talk
- Unrealistic expectations
- All-or-nothing attitude
When a situation comes along that isn’t ideal for us, people with these thought patterns might see it as worse than it objectively is, or they might question their own ability to cope with the situation.
Ever catch yourself thinking or saying these things?:
- “What if this leads to something worse? What if a disaster happens?”
- “Today is going to be awful.”
- “Things won’t ever be any diﬀerent. I can’t change anything.”
- “If things get any worse I won’t be able to cope.”
- “I should be able to do everything perfectly.”
These sort of thoughts come automatically, but that doesn’t mean they are true. If we learn to challenge them, what we can do is re-evaluate a situation with a more positive light. On the other hand, if we accept them without question, we are more likely to feel stressed.
Understanding Your Stress Balance
The Pros and Cons of Stress
We have known for a long time that short bursts of stress can promote motivation and improve our productivity. But now there is also early research to suggest that it probably matters less that we have stress, but more about how we feel about that stress.
We can’t avoid stress no matter how hard we try. But it doesn’t need to be the enemy. There are techniques we can use to minimise “bad” stress and to improve our attitude toward the experience of stress. Firstly we should ﬁnd out more about what kind of stress makes us tick in the bad way.
Stress can cause health problems, and that is most likely to happen when the stress is long-term (chronic), disruptive, or perceived as uncontrollable – that is, when we believe we have no control over the stressor. Let’s use this information to ﬁnd the right balance – investigating our own sources of stress and working out how to manage each one.
It might be handy to keep a stress journal. This doesn’t need to be a big eﬀort – don’t run out to the store and buy yourself a special notebook for it! Just jotting down something on your phone, writing an email to yourself, or, you know, you could get that notebook if you really want to.
Think about the way that stress feels, which we learned in Lesson 2. You might know when you’re stressed. Some people only realise afterwards. And others just can’t tell at all. It may manifest for yo in all sorts of ways and not all of them ﬁt the typical pattern you’d expect. Maybe you get tummy aches or a headache without actually feeling stressed out at all. Or perhaps your thoughts start to race and you feel panicked and pressured. What is your stress like?
Once you start noting down times you have felt stressed, you can write down the events that happened before them, and refer back to what we learned in Lesson 3 about the causes of stress. Was it one big thing or lots of little things that led up to it? Perhaps it felt like there was no reason to be stressed but actually a lot had been going on for you. Or perhaps you have a stress trigger you didn’t even know about. Writing these things down make them much more easy to identify, as we forget sequences of events very quickly and after a week or so it all sort of blurs into one. Having it on a table you can refer back to whenever you like means it’s much easier to analyse objectively.
Owning Your Stress
Once you’ve worked out what really makes you tick, and you have a pretty good understanding of your own personal stress experience…
It’s your stress, no one else’s. No one feels it like you do, no one else will be speciﬁcally triggered by the same stressors you are. And no one else can help your stress go away – that is your responsibility.
For those who experience chronic stress, a low stress threshold, or are not great at managing stress, this might seem like an insurmountable task. But don’t give up faith! If you break it down into simple steps it actually becomes much easier to manage.
You made that awesome stress journal before, right? Now’s the time to analyse your stress.
I apologise for my handwriting.
Consider Each Stressor.
- Is it removable? For example, the illness of a family member is out of your hands, but if the traﬃc gets you stressed out, you could try a diﬀerent route, using public transport, or leaving earlier.
- Is it reducible? Some things are diﬃcult to remove completely, like if you get stressed by pressure in the workplace. But you can instead make a plan for how to reduce the intensity or frequency, like going part time, or trying to delegate tasks more.
- Can you modify your attitude? Consider how you look at the stress, like we talked about in Lesson 3. Could you force yourself to think about things diﬀerently? If this seems like it would work for you, why not try out our 3-Step Thinking Hack Pack?
- Can you find alternate ways to cope? Sometimes there’s nothing we can do. The stressor is there, it sucks and we hate it, or aren’t able to change our attitudes about it. In this situation we need to balance the stress out, to lean on other skills we have to prop us up so we don’t get swept away by that big wave.
Remember, no one is perfect at this. You will still get stressed out, and that’s okay. If you have automatic negative stress behaviours, like avoidance, irritability or anxiety, you will continue to experience these, though they might improve. It’s important not to beat yourself up about that. These experiences and reactions are very instinctual, they’re something that happens deep inside of us. It’s a biological response coded into our DNA – not something you can easily override! So go easy on yourself, be your own cheerleader, and remember, CheckPoint has got your back.