We often use the word ‘stress’ to describe an experience of being overwhelmed by things around us. Everyone-children, adults and older ones-may be affected by stress. This is because common life demands such as work, school, relationships, examinations and money problems cause stress. If these problems fail to go away, chronic stress sets in, interfering with other activities.
What are the common sources of stress?
Have you ever been under pressure? Are you struggling to cope with family or work responsibilities? Have you lost a loved one in death? Have you ever had a life threatening experience? If your answer is yes, you have probably had that unpleasant reaction-stress- to negative circumstances.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, three sources of stress exist:
- Daily or routine activities such as work, family, relationships
- Sudden changes such as financial problems, marital disharmony, job losses, illness or death of loved ones
- Traumatic events resulting in injuries or risk of being killed such as accidents, physical or sexual assaults
Is stress always bad?
No. It has been described as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ depending on the source and how you perceive it. For many people, good or positive stress motivates them to accomplish tasks, meet deadlines and even fight diseases by boosting the immune system. Furthermore, the reaction you have when you sense danger-pounding heartbeats, faster breathing, and tense muscles-is stress ensuring you protect yourself.
Irrespective of the source, any form of stress that is prolonged is dangerous to health. Consequently, all stressful conditions can significantly contribute to poor mental, emotional or physical health. This is more likely to happen when stress is poorly managed or prolonged. For, example some try to cope with stressful conditions by smoking, drinking, isolating themselves or taking it out on others.
So what is the way out? Do you know that it is possible to effectively manage and control stressful conditions? Follow these 7 tips to put the brake on stress.
1. Recognize the warning signs of stress
Recognizing warning signs of stress before its downward spiral to burnout or other severe conditions is an important first step.
How do you know stress is getting out of control? The body cries for help when under unbearable pressure. You should lookout for symptoms of stress which commonly include headaches, poor sleep, irritability, anxiety, difficulty concentrating and low mood. Some of these symptoms mimic anxiety or depressive disorders. Getting a mental health expert to evaluate you may be necessary.
2. Maintain a Healthy lifestyle
A balanced nutrition, exercise and other healthy habits substantially reduce susceptibility to stress. You need to regularly review your lifestyle choices, thoughts and activities. Apart from distracting you from distressing thoughts, exercise improves your mood and relaxes too. In view of this, fuse brief, easy to do exercises into your daily activities. Rather than going on junk foods, consider healthy, nutritious meals including fruits and vegetables. Remember ‘an apple a day…keeps the doctor (and stress) away’.
3. Spend time with people you love
Friends, family members, colleagues that care about you are in a position to help you deal with stressful conditions. Therefore, spend time with them. They are there to listen to you, cry and laugh with you and give you much needed support during times of distress. If there is no one nearby, consider volunteering or taking classes. The opportunities for interacting socially abound if we look hard enough. Widen out.
4. Acquire and use productivity strategies-
In order to deal with the demands of work, personal and family commitments, you need to learn time management and organizational skills and strategies. You may need to take online courses, read books or take advantage of excellent productivity tools and apps available.
5. Engage in fun activities
Do you have a hobby that helps you relax? Why not plan to engage in this activity regularly? Do not let secular pursuits completely crowd out time for recreational activities. A recent Cochrane review of 26 trials involving 1369 participants, found that listening to music (an enjoyable activity for most people) had stress reducing benefits for persons with chronic heart problems. In that study, patients that listened to music slept better and complained of less pain post-surgery. Maintaining a balanced routine is very vital.
6. Be Assertive
You don’t have to say ‘Yes’ to every request. Remember, we all have limits. Know your limits and learn to stick to your schedule. This applies to people and things. It is not necessary to sit through a movie or news program if it makes you anxious or uncomfortable. Learn to be in charge of your environment. Learn to express your feelings in a firm but tactful manner.
7. Get professional help when necessary
When stressful symptoms persist, you should seriously consider seeing a doctor. Sometimes, medications and psychological support may be what is needed for optimal recovery from stressful conditions. Health professionals may recommend medication to reduce distressing symptoms. Mental health professionals may offer counseling or behavioural methods like relaxation techniques. Many relaxation methods exist. One of the easiest and popular relaxation methods is progressive muscle relaxation. This involves systematic tightening and relaxation of different muscle group over 10 to 20 minutes. If you seek medical assistance on time, you may experience quick recovery and early return to work. Additional, proper evaluation may also reveal other medical problems that may mimic symptoms of stress.
There is no quick fix for stress, and what works for one person may not help another. Nevertheless, putting in your best efforts may considerably improve your quality of life and sense of fulfillment.
1. National Institute of Mental Health Fact sheet on stress.
2. Sevcikova L, Stefanikova Z, Jurkovicova J, Ruzanska S, Sabolova M, Aghova L. Stress and health-related behaviour, personality characteristics and blood pressure in older school children. Bratisl Lek Listy. 2001;102(9):420-3
3. Yau YH1, Potenza MN. Stress and eating behaviors. Minerva Endocrinol. 2013 Sep;38(3):255-67