Stress is the way our bodies react both physically and emotionally to any change in the status quo, either good, bad, real or even imagined. Some physical symptoms created by stress include an increased heart rate, rapid breathing, tense muscles and increased blood pressure. Emotional reactions include irritability, anger, losing one’s temper, yelling, lack of concentration and/or being jumpy, etc. When left unchecked, stress can lead to a variety of health problems including insomnia, ulcers, back pain, colitis, high blood pressure, heart disease and a lowering of the body’s immune system. In fact, the American Academy of Family Physicians states that approximately two thirds of all visits to the family doctor are for stress related disorders.
Questions to Ask
Are you so distressed that you have recurrent thoughts of suicide or death? Do you have impulses or plans to commit violence?
Are you experiencing frequent anxiety, nervousness, crying spells and confusion about how to handle your problems?
Are you abusing alcohol, drugs (illegal or prescription) to deal with stress?
Have you been a part of a traumatic event in the past such as armed combat, airplane crash, rape or assault, etc. and do you now experience any of these?
Do you find yourself withdrawing from friends, relatives and co-workers and/or blowing up at them at the slightest provocation?
Do you suffer from a medical illness that you are unable to treat or cope with?
- Being able to manage stress is important in living a healthy, happy and productive life. Listed below are techniques and strategies to effectively deal with stress.
- Maintain a regular program of good health habits, healthy eating and adequate sleep.
- Focus on foods with carbohydrates, especially breads, cereals and pastas. They trigger the release of a brain chemical called serotonin which has a calming effect.
- Exercise regularly. This promotes physical fitness as well as emotional well being.
- Balance work and play. All work and no play can make you pretty uptight. Plan some time for hobbies and recreation. These activities relax your mind and are a good escape from life’s worries.
- Help others. We concentrate on ourselves when we’re distressed. Sometimes helping others is the perfect remedy for whatever is troubling us.
- Take a warm shower or bath. This will soothe and calm your nerves and relax your muscles.
- Have a good cry. Tears of sadness, joy or grief can help cleanse the body of substances that accumulate under stress and also release a natural pain relieving substance from the brain.
- Laugh a lot. When events seem too overwhelming, keep a sense of humor. Laughter makes our muscles go limp and releases tension. It’s difficult to feel stress in the middle of a belly laugh. Learn to laugh as a relaxation technique.
- Learn acceptance. Sometimes a difficult problem is out of your control. When this happens, accept it until changes can be made.
- This is better than worrying and getting nowhere.
- Talk out troubles. It sometimes helps to talk with a friend, relative or clergyman. Another person can help you see a problem from a different point of view.
- Temporarily escape. When you feel you are getting nowhere with a problem, a temporary diversion can help. Going to a movie, reading a book, visiting a museum or taking a drive can help you get out of a rut. Temporarily leaving a difficult situation can help develop new attitudes.
- Reward yourself. Starting today, reward yourself with little things that make you feel good. Treat yourself to a bubble bath, buy the hardcover edition of a book, call a favorite friend, buy a flower, picnic in the park during lunchtime, try a new perfume or cologne, or give yourself some “me time”.
- Do a relaxation exercise daily. Good ones include visualization (imagining a soothing, restful scene), deep muscle relaxation (tensing and relaxing muscle fibers), and meditation and deep breathing.
- Budget your time. Make a “to do” list. Prioritize your daily tasks. Avoid over-commitment.
- Develop and maintain a positive attitude. View changes as positive challenges, opportunities or blessings.
- Prepare and rehearse for stressful events. Imagine yourself feeling calm and confident in an anticipated stressful situation. You will be able to relax more easily when the situation actually takes place.
- Modify your environment to get rid of stress, or manage your exposure to things that cause stress.