You're concerned. It's enough to make you as stressed as they are.
Please try not to be. When people have too much stress, their ability to judge others and themselves is impaired and, though it may not be apparent, they are suddenly quite vulnerable. The best help you can give them is to be reassuringly solid, difficult though that may be.
Before we continue, it is important to ensure that, as the person trying to help your stressed friend or relative, you also look after yourself. Please remember that you will not be able to help anyone else if you over-stretch yourself and helping people through difficulties can be demanding and challenging. What you are doing, though, by listening to someone who needs support, is fantastic, and will help them in a way that no amount of reading about anxiety or worrying could.
Humans are designed to live and work in groups – not in isolation. That applies to you just as much as the person who you are helping. We recommend that you take time out each day to relax and, wherever necessary, allow others to support you. Please also recognise where your sense of responsibility towards your friend/family member should end, and a professional's responsibility should start. (They're not the same point, of course! Support your friend or relative whilst they’re getting professional help, but allow some of the major decision-making burdens to be lifted from your shoulders).
The symptoms of too much stress (which we call Excess-stress) are emotional and physical – so they include backaches, oral conditions like bleeding gums and ulcers, gastric problems and often skin changes, as well as irritability, moodiness, a sudden need to be alone and/or secretive behaviour and sleep loss.
People with Excess-stress can appear to be quite aggressive too, so you may well not feel like sticking close but in fact, these outward manifestations are the result of a primal reaction to danger – an unsophisticated and sub-conscious alert that isn't able, to any real extent, to judge the level of real threat and, by default overestimates it. From a survival point-of-view, it's always better to overestimate a threat than underestimate it!
This means that what may seem to you to be a few quite manageable, or even trivial, problems is, to your friend, partner or relative, a very big thing indeed. We now understand stress better than we ever have. So with support, patience and some love, the fear can be dissolved and the stress levels brought down.
To begin with, it's important that your stressed friend or relative knows he or she isn't alone. In fact, overwhelming feelings about the stress in our lives are the single biggest reason for us taking time off work and are often behind the reasons we visit our doctor. But, right now, he or she needs someone to take their stress seriously.
Next year, the first Registered Stress Practitioners – a new healthcare profession specifically created to address the epidemic of stress in the developed world – will graduate. But that's no good to your friend or relative now.
You can help your friend or relative by doing the following:
Before you speak with the stressed person, read through our advice for people who feel that they are stressed.
Make notes about which part of the advice is relevant to your friend or relative.
Encourage your friend or relative to read our advice and try to be with her or him when they do.
Give her or him ample opportunity to do the Nicrs Stress Assessment on their own if you think they might not feel completely comfortable going through it with you.
The most important thing is to reassure the stressed person that there is help and advice available.
To help you until the first Registered Stress Practitioners graduate in 2012, we have prepared a list of talking therapists, all of whom have stated that they are experienced at working with people who have issues associated with Excess-Stress or Post-slow-stress fatigue.
To find more help, please register.
You can register at the top-right hand corner of any page on this website.