We are confronted with stress every day in our personal and professional lives. By learning about it and how to cope with it, we can minimise the stress for a healthier lifestyle.
Before we can find solutions to fight it all, we need to know exactly what it is and how it affects us. Everyone handles stress differently and there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach to combating it. Because stress is so subjective, we need to find a way to deal with it that suits us. In this article, we will arm you with information about stress, symptoms to look out for and possible coping methods to help you deal with it.
What is Stress?
There are two different kinds of stress – good and bad.
Good stress is also known as eustress. This kind is beneficial since it helps to inspire and motivate you to complete a task or goal. The emotions you experience are excitement to do something or relief once a task is completed. Eustress comes in mild doses and it can give the body a burst of energy while you overcome a manageable obstacle. It refreshes your fight or flight response – increasing hormones like adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol, which increase your blood flow rate and heart rate. This stimulates your senses and improves cognitive brain function, which means that you are also able to focus better. After your goal has been completed, your hormone levels return to normal and you feel relieved.
Here’s a video that explains eustress and distress:
Where good stress is a positive attribute to your life, bad stress is a complete contrast. This kind of stress hinders your everyday life and causes you to be less productive. When distress increases cortisol, it doesn’t have an outlet or physical release. This kind of stress can be chronic and leave you feeling uneasy and distracted. The main inducing factors are usually relationship troubles, high demands in the workplace or tragedies, such as the loss of a loved one.
The constant state of distress can be very detrimental to your health. It affects the body, mind, your emotions and behaviour. By looking out for symptoms of stress, you will be able to recognise how your stress is triggered and what causes it. Knowing these answers will help you to identify stress-inducing situations.
The Symptoms of Stress:
- Headaches, aches and/or pains
- Low energy
- High blood pressure levels
- Increase in sugar
- Weak immune system, making one susceptible to colds and flu
- Decrease in libido and/or loss in sexual ability
Beware: Increased cortisol levels over an extended period can weaken adrenal glands. Stress can contribute to heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma and arthritis. In more extreme causes, continuous stress can affect reproduction.
- Inability to concentrate
- Negative thoughts
- Poor decision making and/or judgement
- Loss of memory
- Unhappiness or even depression
- Becoming easily agitated or overwhelmed
- Low self-esteem
- Moodiness, irritability or angriness
- Change in eating and sleeping habits
- Nervous habits such as nail biting etc.
- Neglecting of responsibilities
- Withdrawing from people
- Drinking excessive alcohol, smoking tobacco and/or taking drugs
Reducing Your Load
The tricky thing about stressors (things that trigger bad stress) is that they are usually not in our control. By claiming control over some part of the stressor, we are able to feel reassured and relieved.
Saying “no” is okay. If it’s not necessary or compulsory then don’t add it to your plate. This is especially for if you’re already feeling under pressure. Ultimately your physical, mental and emotional health is far more important than any other sideline project.
Set manageable goals. Goals are there to push, not drain. In the end, with motivation and hard work, you should be able to reach your goals. Setting unachievable goals and impractical expectations creates stress to perform and achieve. Create more short-term goals than one long-term goal. It makes it seem less intimidating and easier to achieve.
By changing our lifestyle to confront the problems/changes and fix/adjust to it as soon as possible, we are able to reduce and avoid a lot of future stress. When a problem sits dormant, it festers and accumulates.
How to Cope
Finding stress relief is possible. We all need an outlet when things get too much and it is important that we find it. Otherwise, a meltdown is on the horizon. Here are some methods of relieving and managing stress:
Start a Stress Journal
As simple as it sounds, this will help you to understand yourself and your stress. It will also give you some relief, knowing you can gain some control by changing those things.
Step 1: In your journal, identify how you mask it.
Step 2: List all your stressors and why they stress you out.
Step 3: Mention how you are currently trying to cope with it.
Step 4: Write down methods you want to try to relieve stress.
Step 5: Write down how you aim to solve or cope with your stressor.
Step 6: Reflect on what methods work for you and EVALUATE your overall progress.
Keep using the diary (step 2 & 3) to monitor your stress. Expressing yourself in words can also release pent up tension and frustration
You don’t have to be an athlete to find relief via exercise. Exercise can vary from walking around the block to kickboxing classes. Have a go-to routine that you perform to find relief as soon as stress hits you, such as playing some music and dancing to your three favourite songs. Try to have a regular exercise routine that you engage in weekly, like Monday squash night. This will help maintain the effects that stress has on your body in the long run. Exercise is beneficial to your overall health, it decreases cortisol, reduces tension and releases endorphins which literally make you happy.
If you are spiritual, building a deeper connection with your beliefs can make you more emotionally able to handle stress. Knowing that there is a higher power out there to help you solve stressful situations can give you the reassurance that the situation is under control. There are many ways to engage in your spirituality.
- Read up about the religion, gain inspiration and guidance from the materials
- Seek guidance from someone you trust in the religious community
- Pray for yourself and ask others to pray with you
If you aren’t spiritual, you don’t have to use spirituality as a method to combat stress. There are simple breathing and relaxing activities that require no spiritual engagement. Here are some activities to try:
- Slowly counting to 10.
- Taking 5 deep breaths, inhaling from the nose and exhaling through the mouth, changing the position of the mouth as you go along.
- Tense the muscles in your body starting from the bottom and moving upwards, then repeat this by relaxing the muscles.
Seeking out reliable and meaningful friendships can prove to be a big support system when you are going through stressful times. The positive support from people around you can actually lift your spirits when you are feeling down. Communicate and express yourself to your friends and family and relax in their company. Interacting with people can physically calm you down. You don’t need to seek advice from friends or have them solve your stressors; you just need a listening ear. Build and strengthen your relationships so that you can keep in contact with family and friends
Take Time Out
Make sure you are getting a holiday or off-days. These days are meant for you to refresh your body and mind without the stress of work. If you find your environment to be stressful too, then go camping or travel and get away. Focus on yourself in this time, if being surrounded by family or friends make you happy then take them with you but if you are craving that ‘me-time’, then go on your own journey.
Seek Professional Help
Sometimes, it’s more than just stress. If you are trying various methods to manage your stress and nothing works, seek help. If the stress is impacting your life negatively, it is time to ask for help. Psychologists and medical doctors will be able to give you a proper diagnosis or provide reassurance that it’s normal to stress. Don’t try to self-diagnose by using the internet or by asking friends. Professionals are able to diagnose and give you medication to get you back on track. Everyone processes stress differently so be open to asking for help, it could be the best thing you’ve ever done. There is absolutely no shame in asking for help.
Find something that works for you and stick to it. This method can easily become an intrinsic part of your lifestyle and reduce the effects that stress has on your health and life. After all, your health and happiness is more important than any stressors you let consume you. Learning how to look after yourself is truly a valuable and inspirational skill that you will never regret.