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Manage your stress

If you think back to the 9 Pillars of Health that I described in an earlier blog, can you describe one or more issues that you encounter? Do you have any imbalances that cause you stress?

Stress is the body's reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. The body reacts to these changes with physical, mental and emotional responses.

Stress is a normal part of life. Many events that happen to you and around you, and many things that you do yourself, put stress on your body. You can experience stress from your environment, your body and your thoughts.


How does stress affect health?

The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. Stress can be positive, keeping you alert and ready to avoid danger. Stress becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between them. As a result, the person becomes overworked, and stress-related tension builds.

Continuing stress without relief can lead to a condition called distress, a negative stress reaction. Distress can lead to physical problems including headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, trouble sleeping, skin conditions and weight gain. Research suggests that stress can also bring on or worsen certain symptoms or diseases.

Stress can affect all aspects of your life, including your emotions, behaviour, thinking ability and physical health. No part of the body is immune, but, because people handle stress differently, symptoms of stress can vary.


Emotional symptoms of stress include:

  • Becoming easily agitated, frustrated and moody

  • Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control

  • Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind

  • Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless and depressed

  • Avoiding others


Physical symptoms of stress include:

  • Low energy

  • Headaches

  • Upset stomach, including diarrhoea, constipation and nausea

  • Aches, pains, and tense muscles

  • Chest pain and rapid heartbeat

  • Insomnia

  • Frequent colds and infections

  • Loss of sexual desire and/or ability

  • Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear

  • Cold or sweaty hands and feet

  • Excess sweating

  • Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing

  • Clenched jaw and grinding teeth

  • Bloating




How to manage stress?

As mentioned earlier, people experience and handle stress all differently. As such, different things work for different individuals. When you notice that one or more symptoms of stress are taking over your life and well-being, it is time to take action. Try things out to discover what suits you, and always take it step by step.










Methods of stress relief

MOVE, become more active and ultimately exercise regularly

Physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress. Just about any form of physical activity can help relieve stress and burn away anger, tension, and frustration. Exercise releases endorphins that boost your mood and make you feel good, and it can also serve as a valuable distraction to your daily worries.

While the maximum benefit comes from exercising for 30 minutes or more, you can start small and build up your fitness level gradually. Short, 10-minute bursts of activity that elevate your heart rate and make you break out into a sweat can help to relieve stress and give you more energy and optimism. Even very small activities can add up over the course of a day.


Some small steps you can take to get yourself up and moving:

· Put on some music and dance around

· Take your dog for a walk

· Walk or cycle to the store

· Use the stairs at home or work rather than an elevator

· Pair up with a friend and encourage each other as you work out


ENGAGE

Social engagement is the quickest, most efficient way to rein in stress and avoid overreacting to internal or external events that you perceive as threatening. There is nothing more calming to your nervous system than communicating with another human being who makes you feel safe and understood.

The inner ear, face, heart, and stomach are wired together in the brain, so socially interacting with another person face-to-face—making eye contact, listening in an attentive way, talking—can quickly calm you down and put the brakes on defensive stress responses like “fight-or-flight.” It can also release hormones that reduce stress, even if you’re unable to alter the stressful situation itself.


UNNECESSARY STRESS

While stress is an automatic response from your nervous system, some stressors arise at predictable times - your commute to work, a meeting with your boss, family gatherings, etc. When handling such predictable stressors, you can either change the situation or change your reaction. When deciding which option to choose in any given scenario, it’s helpful to think of the four A's: avoid, alter, adapt, or accept.


AVOID the stressor

It’s not healthy to avoid a stressful situation that needs to be addressed, but you may be surprised 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, taking on more than you can handle is a sure-fire recipe for stress. Distinguish between the ‘shoulds’ and the ‘musts’ and, when possible, say “no” to taking on too much.

Avoid people who stress you out – If someone consistently causes stress in your life, limit the amount of time you spend with that person, or end the relationship.

Take control of your environment – If the evening news makes you anxious, turn off the TV. If traffic makes you tense, take a longer but less-traveled route. If going to the market is an unpleasant chore, do your grocery shopping online.


ALTER the situation

If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it. 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, be more assertive and communicate your concerns in an open and respectful way. 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. If you don’t voice your feelings, resentment will build and stress will increase.

Be willing to compromise. When you ask someone to change their behaviour, 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.

Manage your time better. Poor time management can cause a lot of stress. But if you plan ahead and make sure you don’t overextend yourself, you’ll find it easier to stay calm and focused.


ADAPT to the stressor

How you think can have a profound effect on your stress levels. Each time you think a negative thought about yourself, your body reacts as if it were in the middle of a tension-filled situation. Regain your sense of control by changing your expectations and attitude to stressful situations.

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 favourite 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 and set reasonable standards for yourself and others.


ACCEPT the things you can’t change

Many sources of stress are unavoidable. You can’t prevent or change stressors such as the death of a loved one, a serious illness, or a national recession. In such cases, the best way to cope with stress is to accept things as they are. Acceptance may be difficult, but in the long run, it’s easier than railing against a situation you can’t change.

Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things in life are beyond our control—particularly the behaviour 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. 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.

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.


FUN AND RELAXATION

Beyond a take-charge approach and a positive attitude, you can reduce stress in your life by nurturing yourself. If you regularly make time for fun and relaxation, you’ll be in a better place to handle life’s stressors.

You could develop a "stress relief toolbox"! Come up with a list of healthy ways to relax and recharge. Try to implement one or more of these ideas each day, even if you're feeling good:


Go for a walk

Spend time in nature

Call a good friend

Play a game or sports

Write in your journal

Take a long bath

Light scented candles

Enjoy a warm cup of coffee or tea

Play with a pet

Work in your garden

Get a massage

Curl up with a good book

Listen to music

Watch a comedy

Draw, paint, write, sculpt, dance, sing


Don’t get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of life that you forget to take care of your own needs. Nurturing yourself is a necessity, not a luxury.

Set aside relaxation time. Include rest and relaxation in your daily schedule. This is your time to take a break from all responsibilities and recharge your batteries.


HEALTHY LIFESTYLE

In addition to regular exercise, there are other healthy lifestyle choices that can increase your resistance to stress.

Eat a healthy diet. Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress, so be mindful of what you eat.

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.


GET SOME HELP

Find a professional that you can talk to if you feel that your stress is caused by something deeply rooted. Or someone that can help you to meditate, and teach you how to breath. Join a yoga class.


HELP YOURSELF

Meditate: do a simple form of meditation by focussing on your breathing, whether it's just for 5 seconds or 5 minutes. Notice how the air goes in through your nose and back out. Think about only that, and don't fight the thoughts that come up chatting in your head. Always go back to the sensation of the breath until you feel a bit calmer. There are a few apps that you could download on your smartphone or videos on YouTube, that offer guided meditation. This is very helpful if you find it hard to get started by yourself.

be present: slow down your pace while going somewhere and tune in to your senses (feel the wind on your face, hear the traffic going by, etc.), or do a mental body scan while lying or sitting down -> start at your toes, working up to your scalp and notice how your body is feeling.

Decompress: place a warm heat wrap around your neck and shoulders for 10 minutes. Close your eyes and relax your face, neck, upper chest, and back muscles. Remove the wrap, and use a tennis ball or foam roller to massage away tension.

Laugh!: a good belly laugh doesn’t just lighten the load mentally. It lowers cortisol, your body’s stress hormone, and boosts brain chemicals called endorphins, which help your mood. Lighten up by tuning in to your favorite sitcom or video or chatting with someone who makes you smile.

Music: Research shows that listening to soothing music can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety. You also can blow off steam by rocking out to more upbeat tunes -- or singing at the top of your lungs!

Ground yourself: The Earth Buttons Technique can help you to relax when you can’t seem to calm down. Rest two fingers of one hand under your lower lip. Place the heel of the other hand on your navel, with fingers pointing downwards. Breathe deeply for three or more breaths, as you entire body relaxes.


Use these tips to balance out the area’s in your life that are shaky!


Karen 😊

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