Wednesday 18 July 2018

Dr Ciara Kelly: 'Good times and bad times pass... I patched things up with my pal. I came to terms with my father's death'

In a series on how to stress-proof your life, Dr Ciara Kelly talks about how she handles stress.

GP and Newstalk presenter Dr Ciara Kelly talks to Liadan Hynes about finding the sweet spot when it comes to stress, and how men and women handle it differently.
GP and Newstalk presenter Dr Ciara Kelly talks to Liadan Hynes about finding the sweet spot when it comes to stress, and how men and women handle it differently.

'I am somebody who doesn't avoid stress like the plague. I don't think it is all bad. There is a sweet spot, to the extent that you're buzzing, you're performing well and are on top of things, and you're getting something out of that. Then you can go beyond that and stress can become more toxic."

For Ciara, existing in what she terms the high-performance area of stress is energising. "Being busy and juggling a lot of stuff is not something I dislike," she says. "But like everybody else, I can't stay in that zone. You end up flipping over into high stress.

"Workwise, the most stressed I've been was when I had a four-year-old and a two-year-old and had just bought a practice. I was also renovating a house. During that same period my dad died and I fell out with a friend. It felt everything was miserable. I don't think I've ever felt as stressed before or since."

Knowing the signs of stress can be helpful. "One of the things that started happening was my sleep patterns became very poor. I was on edge all the time, more irritable than normal, withdrawing from doing things I might have previously wanted to do. I always find when I'm a little bit anxious I eat too much, and when I'm very anxious I don't eat at all."

The simple passage of time was hugely helpful. "I think it's really important to bear in mind that good times and bad times pass. Finally the builders left. The practice wasn't new forever. My children grew a little bit older. I got used to my new normal. I patched things up with my pal. I came to terms with my father's death. The march of time is a very important thing."

An arsenal of coping strategies is crucial. "When I am stressed, forcing myself to get enough sleep is a big one. Exercise is really beneficial; getting out and hitting the pavement for 30 minutes or whatever on your own is very calming; reading a good book."

If further help is required, your GP is the first step. "Your GP is a gateway to counsellors, psychotherapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, medication, and a really easy port of call for a chat. Sometimes that's almost enough; going in and saying it: 'I feel bad. I don't feel normal. I'm not myself. I'm upset a lot. I'm snapping at my family. I'm not sleeping well or eating right, or I've lost interest in sex. I'm detached from the people I love.'"

At times, overwhelming stress can inhibit people from taking action, in which case your GP can act as a lifeline. "They can say, 'OK, I know you don't feel able to process this, but we're going to form a plan'. Sometimes somebody else taking charge is a very helpful thing."

Ciara sees alcohol as a huge, often unacknowledged, cause of stress: "People put their stress down to lots of other things, but actually if we are horsing into excessive amounts of a depressive all the time our stress levels will be higher than they should be. People often use it to self-medicate their stress, making the situation worse."

Our tolerance for stress is also an issue. "We think that's just how it is, that's normal. People come in about the symptoms but they don't name the condition causing them."

Gender plays a role in how we handle stress. "Anxiety and stress is extremely prevalent in women. That's not to say for a moment men don't experience stress either, but it is extremely common in women. It's almost like if you could amplify normal female emotions slightly, you would end up straight into stress and anxiety. Checking yourself, undermining yourself, feeling insecure, those are often conditions that women are used to having anyway. So it is an easy slippage for women."

That said, it is easier for women to admit to anxiety and stress. "There are certain things women find harder to own, and certain things men find harder to own. Men find it very hard to own things like anxiety, so they find it very difficult to express that they have those symptoms and they bottle it up. That can be very isolating. Women find it really hard to admit to addiction or gambling."

GP and Newstalk presenter Dr Ciara Kelly talks to Liadan Hynes about finding the sweet spot when it comes to stress, and how men and women handle it differently.

Ciara's tips

Look after your sleep. If you aren't sleeping well still go to bed at a reasonable hour, don't stay up watching TV, or looking at your phone.

Alcohol is not your friend. Cut back in all circumstances when your mental health is under pressure. If you need it to self-medicate then that means you've identified you have a problem. Alcohol is not the solution. Back away from the bottle.

Exercise is as effective as medication in most cases of anxiety, stress, and depression. Get out in the fresh air.

Cut back on phone time and social media time - they are anxiety inducing. Comparison is the root of all unhappiness.

Sunday Independent

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Editors Choice

Also in Life