How to Deal with Stress
Stress is the emotional and physical strain that affects mental and physical well being. It is the living response to the pressures of everyday life.
The stresses people feel can be:
- Physical – fear and anxiety are physically exhausting, and if prolonged or chronic, can be harmful to physical health
- Emotional – chronic and unresolved fear, anxiety, grief, anger, resentment, sadness, low self-esteem, or other emotion that becomes persistent and taxing, both mentally and physically, adversely affecting the normal enjoyment of life
All the emotions mentioned above are normal, and have their proper place in everyday living. It is when these emotions become chronic and prolonged that problems with stress can arise. Often, people who are struggle with physical and/or emotional stress over prolonged periods are not fully aware of the underlying causes. Identifying the cause of stress in a person’s life is the first step to relieving the symptoms of stress.
There are many recognised types of stress. These include:
Too much stress from worrying or from circumstances beyond our control causes the body to react with the well-known fight-or-flight response. The brain, kidneys, and other organs release hormones, such as adrenaline, that prepare the body and mind for running or fighting. This is a normal and natural occurrence, and sometimes necessary for survival. But prolonged bouts of fight-or-flight stress are harmful to both body and mind.
Habitual worrying about things which cannot be changed or controlled, or just worrying for no reason at all, can cause symptoms of both mental and physical illness. This internal type of stress is typical of the modern Western lifestyle, and it is very mportant to understand and manage it in order to avoid illness.
Our responses to the things and events in our immediate environment often cause stress, such as too much noise; over-crowding; the many pressures of family, work, and social life.
The effects of exhaustion and overwork may not be immediately obvious; however, without sufficient opportunity for rest and recreation, these stresses build up over time, and can take a devastating toll on mind and body.
Coping with the stresses of daily life
Bodies under stress become tense. This can lead to physical pain and shortness of temper. Some good tips for dealing on-the-spot with daily stress include:
- Deep breathing exercises, which can be done almost anytime, almost anywhere
- Relaxation techniques, such as those used in Yoga
- Recreational exercise, such as brisk walking
- Listening to music or audio books
- Watching television or listening to radio programmes (NB: it might be a good idea to delay listening to the News if you’ve had a stressful day!)
Repressing the emotions provoked by daily stress is never a good idea. Although we must always strive to control ourselves, and put on a brave face at work and at school, it helps to confide one’s troubles to a trusted friend or relative; a problem shared is a problem halved, and appropriate sharing is certainly one of the most time-tested methods of dealing with stress. Sometimes, counselling may be necessary in order to deal effectively with stress. If so, don’t be ashamed; it is better to admit to the need for help, and seek it, than to suffer in silence and become ill.
Sometimes, being too close to the problems that cause stress, such as problems with marriage, parenting, caring for elders, etc., can make it difficult or nearly impossible to see what the solutions might be; in such cases, talking our problems through with a counsellor or therapist can be of great value.
There are many positive aspects of stress, including the ability to realise when something may be going wrong. Positive stress, such as pain in the head after a hard bump, can tell us when we need to see a doctor to be treated for an injury. The burden of remorse after saying harsh words to a spouse or friend signal that an apology and reconciliation are in order. The awful fear we feel when we see a building burning to the ground is our primitive survival instinct telling us to ‘get out–now!’
A Sensible Lifestyle
We’ve all heard this advice thousands of times, but it cannot be repeated often enough: adequate sleep, a healthful diet and proper exercise are indispensable to overall good health and to maintaining normal levels of stress. When we feel well, we are better equipped to deal with the slings and arrows of life. Absorbing hobbies, constructive interests help to create a well-rounded, healthful lifestyle. Try some relaxing activity. Join an art group or photography class or learn to play a musical instrument.
Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety and promote adequate sleep. Take care when starting any new sport or exercise; seek medical advice if you have any concerns about your level of ability or fitness.
What else can I do to reduce stress?
- Avoid drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or indulging in any other form of recreational drug abuse
- Avoid impulse eating (i.e., eating when bored, sad, lonely, depressed)
- If you feel the need for extra rest during a stressful time of life, make arrangements to get the rest you need
- Don’t push yourself too much and don’t take on too much.
- Learn to say NO; make sure you have spare time to do the things you enjoy.