Modern life is full of hassles, deadlines, frustrations, and demands. For many people, stress is so commonplace that it has become a way of life. Stress isn’t always bad. In small doses, it can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best. But when you’re constantly running in emergency mode, your mind and body pay the price.
If you frequently find yourself feeling frazzled and overwhelmed, it’s time to take action to bring your nervous system back into balance. You can protect yourself by learning how to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress and taking steps to reduce its harmful effects
Effects of chronic stress
The body doesn’t distinguish between physical and psychological threats. When you’re stressed over a busy schedule, an argument with a friend, a traffic jam, or a mountain of bills, your body reacts just as strongly as if you were facing a life-or-death situation. If you have a lot of responsibilities and worries, your emergency stress response may be “on” most of the time. The more your body’s stress system is activated, the easier it is to trip and the harder it is to shut off.
Long-term exposure to stress can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can raise blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility, and speed up the aging process. Long-term stress can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.
Stress management techniques;
Managing stress is all about taking charge: taking charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems. The ultimate goal is a balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation, and fun – plus the resilience to hold up under pressure and meet challenges head on
Strategy #1: Avoid unnecessary stressNot all stress can be avoided, and it’s not healthy to avoid a situation that needs to be addressed. You may be surprised, however, by the number of stressors in your life that you can eliminate.
- Learn how to say “no” – Know your limits and stick to them. Whether in your personal or professional life, refuse to accept added responsibilities when you’re close to reaching them. Taking on more than you can handle is a surefire recipe for stress.
- Avoid people who stress you out – If someone consistently causes stress in your life and you can’t turn the relationship around, limit the amount of time you spend with that person or end the relationship entirely.
- Take control of your environment – If the evening news makes you anxious, turn the TV off. If traffic’s got you tense, take a longer but less-traveled route. If going to the market is an unpleasant chore, do your grocery shopping online or by telephone.
- Avoid hot-button topics – If you get upset over religion or politics, cross them off your conversation list. If you repeatedly argue about the same subject with the same people, stop bringing it up or excuse yourself when it’s the topic of discussion.
- Pare down your to-do list – Analyze your schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks. If you’ve got too much on your plate, distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts.” Drop tasks that aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list or eliminate them entirely.
Strategy #2: Alter the situation
If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it. Figure out what you can do to change things so the problem doesn’t present itself in the future. Often, this involves changing the way you communicate and operate in your daily life.
- Express your feelings instead of bottling them up. If something or someone is bothering you, communicate your concerns in an open and respectful way. If you don’t voice your feelings, resentment will build and the situation will likely remain the same.
- Be willing to compromise. When you ask someone to change their behavior, be willing to do the same. If you both are willing to bend at least a little, you’ll have a good chance of finding a happy middle ground.
- Be more assertive. Don’t take a backseat in your own life. Deal with problems head on, doing your best to anticipate and prevent them. If you’ve got an exam to study for and your chatty roommate just got home, say up front that you only have five minutes to talk.
- Manage your time better. Poor time management can cause a lot of stress. When you’re stretched too thin and running behind, it’s hard to stay calm and focused. But if you plan ahead and make sure you don’t overextend yourself, you can alter the amount of stress you’re under.
Strategy #3: Adapt to the stressor
If you can’t change the stressor, change yourself. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by changing your expectations and attitude.
- Reframe problems. Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Rather than fuming about a traffic jam, look at it as an opportunity to pause and regroup, listen to your favorite radio station, or enjoy some alone time.
- Look at the big picture. Take perspective of the stressful situation. Ask yourself how important it will be in the long run. Will it matter in a month? A year? Is it really worth getting upset over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.
- Adjust your standards. Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to be okay with “good enough.”
- Focus on the positive. When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and gifts. This simple strategy can help you keep things in perspective.
Adjusting Your AttitudeHow you think can have a profound effect on your emotional and physical well-being. Each time you think a negative thought about yourself, your body reacts as if it were in the throes of a tension-filled situation. If you see good things about yourself, you are more likely to feel good; the reverse is also true. Eliminate words such as "always," "never," "should," and "must." These are telltale marks of self-defeating thoughts.
- Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things in life are beyond our control— particularly the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems.
- Look for the upside. As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth. If your own poor choices contributed to a stressful situation, reflect on them and learn from your mistakes.
- Share your feelings. Talk to a trusted friend or make an appointment with a therapist. Expressing what you’re going through can be very cathartic, even if there’s nothing you can do to alter the stressful situation.
- Learn to forgive. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes. Let go of anger and resentments. Free yourself from negative energy by forgiving and moving on.
Healthy ways to relax and recharge
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- Set aside relaxation time. Include rest and relaxation in your daily schedule. Don’t allow other obligations to encroach. This is your time to take a break from all responsibilities and recharge your batteries.
- Connect with others. Spend time with positive people who enhance your life. A strong support system will buffer you from the negative effects of stress.
- Do something you enjoy every day. Make time for leisure activities that bring you joy, whether it be stargazing, playing the piano, or working on your bike.
- Keep your sense of humor. This includes the ability to laugh at yourself. The act of laughing helps your body fight stress in a number of ways.
You can increase your resistance to stress by strengthening your physical health.
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress. Make time for at least 30 minutes of exercise, three times per week. Nothing beats aerobic exercise for releasing pent-up stress and tension.
- Eat a healthy diet. Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress, so be mindful of what you eat. Start your day right with breakfast, and keep your energy up and your mind clear with balanced, nutritious meals throughout the day.
- Reduce caffeine and sugar. The temporary "highs" caffeine and sugar provide often end in with a crash in mood and energy. By reducing the amount of coffee, soft drinks, chocolate, and sugar snacks in your diet, you’ll feel more relaxed and you’ll sleep better.
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs may provide an easy escape from stress, but the relief is only temporary. Don’t avoid or mask the issue at hand; deal with problems head on and with a clear mind.
- Get enough sleep. Adequate sleep fuels your mind, as well as your body. Feeling tired will increase your stress because it may cause you to think irrationally.
STRESS BUSTER - CRYINGNot much is known about the physiology of crying and tears, although many find that crying - weeping proper tears - has a powerful helpful effect on stress levels. Whatever the science behind crying, a good bout of sobbing and weeping does seem to release tension and stress for many people.
It is a shame that attitudes towards crying and tears prevent many people from crying, and it's a sad reflection on our unforgiving society that some people who might benefit from a good cry feel that they shouldn't do it ever - even in complete privacy.
Unfortunately most of us - especially boys - are told as children that crying is bad or shameful or childish, which of course is utter nonsense. Arguably only the bravest cry unashamedly - the rest of us would rather suffer than appear weak, which is daft, but nevertheless real.
Whatever, shedding a few tears can be a very good thing now and then, and if you've yet to discover its benefits then give it a try. You might be surprised
Important tips to manage your stress
1. Breathe Easily .
Breathing from your diaphragm oxygenates your blood, which helps you relax almost instantlyTo breathe deeply, begin by putting your hand on your abdomen just below the navel. Inhale slowly through your nose and watch your hand move out as your belly expands. Hold the breath for a few seconds, then exhale slowly. Repeat several times.
2. Visualize Calm.
Close your eyes, take three long, slow breaths, and spend a few seconds picturing a relaxing scene, such as walking in a meadow, kneeling by a brook, or lying on the beach. Focus on the details — the sights, the sounds, the smells.
3. Make Time for a Mini Self-Massage.
Simply massage the palm of one hand by making a circular motion with the thumb of the other. Or use a massage gadget.
5. Say Cheese
Smiling is a two-way mechanism. We do it when we’re relaxed and happy, but doing it can also make us feel relaxed and happy. Smiling transmits nerve impulses from the facial muscles to the limbic system, a key emotional center in the brain, tilting the neurochemical balance toward calm.Go ahead and grin.
6. Do Some Math
Using a scale of one to 10, with one being the equivalent of a minor hassle and 10 being a true catastrophe, assign a number to whatever it is that’s making you feel anxious.You’ll find that most problems we encounter rate somewhere in the two to five range — in other words, they’re really not such a big deal.
7. Stop Gritting Your Teeth
Stress tends to settle in certain parts of our bodies, the jaw being one of them.Place your index fingertips on your jaw joints, just in front of your ears; clench your teeth and inhale deeply. Hold the breath for a moment, and as you exhale say, “Ah-h-h-h,” then unclench your teeth. Repeat a few times.
8. Compose a Mantra
Devise an affirmation — a short, clear, positive statement that focuses on your coping abilities.Affirmations are a good way to silence the self-critical voice we all carry with us that only adds to our stress. The next time you feel as if your life is one disaster after another, repeat 10 times, “I feel calm. I can handle this.”
9. Check Your Chi.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and parallel. Bend your knees to a quarter-squat position (about 45 degrees) while keeping your upper body straight. Observe your breathing for a couple of breaths. Inhale and bring your arms slowly up in front of you to shoulder height with your elbows slightly bent. Exhale, stretching your arms straight out. Inhale again, bend your elbows slightly and drop your arms down slowly until your thumbs touch the sides of your legs. Exhale one more time, then stand up straight.
10. Be a Fighter.At the first sign of stress, you often hear people complain, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’. The trouble is, feeling like a victim only increases feelings of stress and helplessness. Instead, focus on being proactive. If your flight gets canceled, don’t wallow in self-pity. Find another one. If your office is too hot or too cold, don’t suffer in silence. Call the building manager and ask what can be done to make things more comfortable.
11. Put It on Paper Writing provides perspective.Divide a piece of paper into two parts. On the left side, list the stressors you may be able to change, and on the right, list the ones you can’t.Change what you can and stop fretting over what you can’t.
12. Count to 10 Before you say or do something you’ll regret, step away from the stressor and collect yourself. You can also look away for a moment or put the caller on hold. Use your time-out to take a few deep breaths, stretch, or recite an affirmation.
13. Switch to Decaf
Wean yourself slowly, or you might get a caffeine-withdrawal headache that could last for several days. Subtract a little regular coffee and add some decaf to your morning cup. Over the next couple of weeks, gradually increase the proportion of decaf to regular until you’re drinking all decaf. You should also consider switching from regular soft drinks to caffeine-free ones or sparkling mineral water.
14. Just Say No
Trying to do everything is a one-way ticket to serious stress. Be clear about your limits, and stop trying to please everyone all the time.
15. Take a Whiff
Oils of anise, basil, bay, chamomile, eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint, rose, and thyme are all soothing. Place a few pieces of rock salt in a small vial, then add a couple of drops of the oil of your choice (the rock salt absorbs the oil and is much less risky to carry around in your purse than a bottle of oil). Open the vial and breathe in the scent whenever you need a quick stress release.
16. Warm Up.
Rub your hands together vigorously until they feel warm. Then cup them over your closed eyes for five seconds while you breathe deeply. The warmth and darkness are comforting.
17. Say Yes to Pressure
Acupressure stimulates the same points as acupuncture, but with fingers instead of needles.Pressing on the following three points are recommended:
- The Third Eye, located between the eyebrows, in the indentation where the bridge of the nose meets the forehead.
- The Heavenly Pillar, on the back of the neck slightly below the base of the skull, about half an inch to the left or right of the spine.
- The Heavenly Rejuvenation, half an inch below the top of each shoulder, midway between the base of the neck and the outside of the shoulder blade.
- Breathe deeply and apply firm, steady pressure on each point for two to three minutes. The pressure should cause a mild aching sensation, but not pain.
Some stressors demand immediate attention — a smoke alarm siren or a police car’s whirling red light. But many low-grade stressors can be dealt with at a later time, when it’s more convenient.File them away in a little mental compartment, or make a note, then deal with them when the time is right. Don’t let them control you.
Managing stress does not cure medical problems. Relieving stress can alleviate and speed recovery from certain illnesses, particularly those caused by stress, (which depending on circumstances can disappear when the stress is relieved); i.e., relieving stress is not a substitute for conventional treatments of illness, disease and injury.
Importantly, if the stress is causing serious health effects the sufferer must consult a doctor. Do not imagine that things will improve by soldiering on, or hoping that the sufferer will somehow become more resilient; things can and probably will get worse.
For less serious forms of stress, simply identify the cause(s) of stress, then to commit/agree to removing the cause(s). If appropriate this may involve removing the person from the situation that is causing the stress.
Counselling may be necessary to identify the cause(s), particularly if the sufferer has any tendency to deny or ignore the stress problem