Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Beat stress: a complete and relaxing guide
Ruby Wax: 'Every single disease you catch is because of stress'
“If left unchecked for a prolonged period of time, stress can cause much more serious, long-term mental and physical illnesses such as anxiety and depression," said Dr Martin Baggaley, medical director, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, at the time, before adding that it can also "be a contributing factor in health problems such as heart disease and even obesity.”
Solemn words indeed. Yes, people have different tolerances for stress – one man's panic inducing confrontation is another man's mildly stimulating discussion – but if so many of us are beside ourselves with stress, it's important we realise it and learn how to relax.
Here is my guide to doing exactly that.
What is stress?
We all know what stress feels like – but to get a more in-depth understanding, it's helpful to take a look at the origins of this natural but often harmful human instinct.
Biologically speaking, we’ve changed very little from our hunter gatherer days. Back when being eaten by wolves or accosted by a rival tribe was a legitimate concern, a stress induced ‘flight or flight’ response was appropriate: we would have had seconds to decide whether we were going to run or stand and fight.
In modern society, we have given similar meaning to scenarios that are not actually life threatening at all. For example: noisy neighbours, poor relationship communication, a bad boss and getting cut off in traffic can all be enough to elicit that same fight or fight response.
Often, the problem – and the key to our high stress levels – is that whereas traditional 'fight or flight' situations were over quickly, today they drag on and on (bad bosses, for example, don't tend to go anywhere fast). As a result, we live with the harmful effects of mini shots of adrenalin and cortisol constantly hitting our blood supply.
Your body is not able to distinguish the origin or severity of your stressors, so whatever the cause, all stress is drained into one collective ‘pool’ of worry. If this pool gets too full before you are able to combat your stress, health problems ensue.
Young people are more prone to call in sick due to stress than older people, a survey found
How to spot stress
Physical symptoms of stress include: a pounding heart; elevated blood pressure; sweaty palms; tightness of chest; aching neck, jaw and back muscles; headache; chest pains; abdominal cramps; nausea; trembling; sleep disturbance; tiredness; susceptibility to minor illness; itching; being easily startled; forgetfulness.
Common mental processes: your mind racing or going blank; not being able to ‘switch off’; a lack of attention to detail; your self esteem and confidence plummeting; disorganised thoughts; a diminished sense of meaning in life; a lack of control or the need for too much control; negative self statements and negative evaluation; difficulty in making decisions; a loss of perspective.
Common behaviours: becoming withdrawn and not wanting to socialise; increasing your alcohol, nicotine or drugs intake; under or over eating; becoming accident prone and careless; becoming impatient, aggressive or compulsive; not taking breaks; taking work home; procrastinating on important projects; managing time poorly and consequently losing out on leisure activities.
Feelings you may experience: irritable, angry, depressed, jealous, restless, anxious, hyper alert, unnecessarily guilty, panic, mood swings, crying easily.
How to reduce stress
Once you have learnt to identify your stressors and the symptoms they produce, it’s important to have some strategies to fight back. Remember that no matter where your stress is coming from, your body will treat it the same.
Here are some strategies you can use at any time to manage stress:
Go for a walk. An activity as simple as walking can provide an immediate change of scenery and body chemistry that can drastically reduce stress. Try to add 20 minutes to the amount of time you normally spend out of the house or office every day – you'll notice the difference.
Get training. Vigorous exercise such as weightlifting or higher intensity cardio releases endorphins that make us feel good and help battle our stress hormones. Be sure not to push exercise too hard though, especially at times of high stress, as this will be treated as yet another stressor and added to the ‘pool’.
Get touchy feely. Assuming your stress is not directly related to your friends, romantic partners or family, close physical contact with other people is very good for us and can help to relieve stress. Consider indulging in a warm embrace between friends, hug with a family member, even sex with a romantic partner.
Learn to reframe negative situations. Happy people have the ability to put a positive spin on a negative situation. Whatever you are going through, try to draw out a positive no matter how hard it may be. Our last freedom as humans is the ability to decide how we think and feel about our environment.
Meditate. Meditation or mindfulness can help you find the mental clarity to process the negative scenarios that you encounter and find answers. Mindfulness can also help you to see the world ‘as it is’ so that the numerous petty annoyances of a typical day don’t bother you quite so much.
Cut out the noise of other people's worries. At times of stress, it’s important that we set about a plan to free our minds of the things that are bothering us. Its important to keep in mind that as a family member, romantic partner, friend and colleague, others will often share their worries with us. There is a big difference between showing empathy and compassion with someone else’s worries and taking those worries on ourselves. Show that you care, but don't wear the weight of their stress around your neck.
Take time out. Nothing is more important than your health. If you feel as if your stress levels are approaching boiling point, take some time for a relaxing getaway. Do the things you enjoy to do, spent time the way you want to spend it.
Communicate your need to do this with those close to you and request their understanding. You may be surprised by the extent to which people are willing to help you – believe it or not, they'll have been through very stressful period of life themselves.