Life comes with a lot of demands, which can lead to an accumulation of stress. In any given day, we may need to deal with the stress of traffic, performing well at work, deadlines, paying bills, relationships, children and even grocery shopping can be stressful sometimes. In combination, these stresses can be really harmful to you.
The body and brain are wired to respond to any stress as a threat to the system, and release stress hormones into the bloodstream when faced with potential threats. This results in a “fight or flight” response that is intended to enable your body to either run away from the threat (you wouldn’t want to be sticking around when a lion approaches, for example) or fight it.
In the modern era, this fight or flight response is not usually necessary, as most of the stressors we face are unlikely to kill us, but the stress hormones also enhance mental performance, so can offer some benefits in the workplace. However, like many things in life, too much of a good thing can be bad for us. In days gone by, the body would return to a normal relaxed state after the lion or other threat moved on, but in the non-stop complications of modern living, our stress hormone system rarely shuts down.
Stress can adversely affect your health in many different ways. Chronic muscle tension in the shoulders, neck and head can cause significant discomfort and is associated with tension headaches. Over time, chronic stress can also lead to serious health problems such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Your sex life may also take a knock from stress related problems such as erectile dysfunction and impotence in men, and reduced libido in women. Women’s menstrual cycles may also be affected.
On the mental health side, a chronically stressed person may experience constant worrying, racing thoughts, or repeatedly go over the same thought in their mind. In addition to feeling anxious, some people become irritable or aggressive. Feelings of low self-esteem can emerge, which can lead to social withdrawal, indecisiveness and tearfulness. Sleep and appetite can be affected and mood swings may also be a pointer to stress overload. Some may turn to using cigarettes, alcohol or other recreational drugs as a way of trying to cope.
Six tips to manage stress
Don’t wait until stress damages your health, relationships or quality of life. Start practicing these stress management techniques today.
- Recognise the problem
Make the connection between the stressors you are dealing with and the mental and physical health symptoms listed above.
- Identify the causes and some solutions
Are you taking on too much? Can you go about your tasks in a more relaxed fashion? Try and identify the main factors causing you stress and think about how you can reduce their stressful impact. Focus on things you have control over and look for practical solutions. If stress is keeping you up at night, the solution may be as easy as removing the TV and computer from your bedroom.
- Take time to relax
Make the time to nuture and relax your body and mind. This can be anything from deep breathing, tai chi and yoga to going for a massage, having a long soak in the bath or dancing— whatever helps you relax.
- Be aware of your smoking and drinking
Even though they may seem to reduce tension, this is misleading as they often make problems worse.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and make sure you get enough sleep.
- Ask for help
You don’t have to figure everything out on your own. Ask for help and support from family and friends. Maybe you just need to talk, or perhaps you could do with some help with childcare or a ride to work when your car’s in the shop. If you feel you need professional help, consult a psychologist or your GP.
Stress is a part of life so stress management needs to be part of your life too. By paying attention to reducing your stress triggers and practicing ways to relax, you will increase your ability to cope, leaving you ready and open for all the joys that life brings too.
Share this story with someone who might be going through a stressful time to help them deal with it.