What is Stress?
Most people don’t know that happy occasions such as taking a vacation or attending a wedding can be just as stressful as getting a speeding ticket or experiencing a divorce. When you get stressed, your muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, heart rate speeds up and extra adrenaline rushes though your body.
Too much stress over a prolonged period of time can lead to health problems. Continued exposure to stress can be destructive if it is not controlled. It can lead to mental and physical health problems such as anxiety, ulcers, muscular aches and pains, high blood pressure, a stroke or a heart attack.
If stress is controlled, it can improve your job performance and help with the challenges you face. Positive use of stress can give you that extra motivation you need to reach your fullest potential.
Chronic stress can affect your body as well as your mind. Stress can cause more than 50 physical ailments, including indigestion, fatigue, insomnia, and high blood pressure. It is a contributing factor in two out of three visits to the doctor. Chronic stress erodes your self-esteem, makes relating to other people difficult, and affects your ability to share in activities and events around you.
These symptoms could signal chronic stress in your life:
• Sudden mood changes
• Lack of energy
• Muscle tension
• Changes in eating and sleeping habits
• Cold hands and feet
• Increased use of drugs or alcohol
• Chronic neck or back pain
• Increased irritability
Note: Some of these symptoms may be due to causes other than stress. Check with your physician if symptoms persist.
Stress affects each individual differently. What upsets one person may not bother another. By identifying what causes your stress, you can learn how to prepare yourself and control your reactions to stress.
These are some common situations that cause stress:
• Any big change in your life-good or bad, such as a job promotion or having a baby
• Death of a loved one
• Financial problems
• Conflicts with co-workers
• Marriage, separation or divorce
• Change in lifestyle
• Waiting in line
Manage Your Stress
There is no need for anyone to suffer from the effects of stress that can cause burnout and other health related problems. You can learn to control stress by recognizing its causes and incorporating practical ways to avoid, reduce or relieve stress. Try to incorporate some of the following stress reduction suggestions into your daily routine until they become part of your lifestyle.
Increase Your Stress Tolerance
• Get a good night’s sleep. Sleep gives your body time to rest and get ready to face the next day. Insufficient sleep can make it difficult for you to function well, which makes you more prone to stress.
• What you eat can affect how you feel. Foods containing sugar and chocolate have been linked with physiological changes in the body which lower your stress resistance. Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol because these can aggravate your stress response. Eat nutritional, well-balanced meals to help keep you healthy so you’ll be able to handle pressure.
• Help your body handle the physical effects of stress by staying in the best physical shape possible. Exercise provides a healthy outlet for your pent-up energies and frustrations. If you’re feeling tense, an exercise such as walking or running can help you redirect that pent-up energy in a positive way.
• Release your emotions by talking with a good friend, your loved ones, co-workers, or a trusted counselor. Keeping tension within yourself reduces your ability to handle more stress.
• Remove yourself physically from the cause of your stress. Take a break. A change of pace gives you a new outlook.
• Learn to relax a few minutes every day. Turn off the radio or television, take a leisurely bath, unplug the telephone and practice deep breathing exercises to help you relax.
• Ask yourself if the situation is worth your stress. Is it really going to matter in a week, a month, or a year? Refuse to take responsibility for things you have no control over or cannot change.
• Create a routine. Plan your work to use time and energy more efficiently. Regular planning helps avoid stressful rushes, but be careful not to become rigid. Write down a list of priorities and tackle one thing at a time.
• Be optimistic about your life to reduce the negative effects of stress.
Keep the following foods in mind if you are dealing with your stress level.
Foods to Limit:
• Cola drinks
• Junk food
Foods to Choose:
• Fresh fruits (especially citrus)
• Fresh vegetables
• Herb teas
• Lean meat, fish, poultry
• Whole grains
• Low-fat or non-fat dairy products
Think about your work and personal lifestyle and how it is affecting you.
• Develop clear long-range goals. Know what you want and how you plan on getting it.
• Develop short-range goals that help you achieve your long-range goals.
• Pass up those things that will not help you attain these goals. Decline an invitation to a party you’d rather not attend or don’t go to a store sale just for the sake of going.
• Accept things that you cannot change. There may be some sources of stress that you cannot change. Although it may be difficult to accept at first, focus on what you can do to cope with the stressful situation and view the challenge as an opportunity for personal growth.
Control Your Thoughts
Many people offset their stress control efforts by dwelling on negative thoughts. If you find yourself doing this, stop yourself and:
• Identify the problem realistically and analyze how much of the stress is due to your unrealistic expectations of other people, events, or things.
• Ask yourself why you feel anxious.
• Decide if you are to blame for the situation. You are not responsible for things you have no control over or cannot change.
• Realize that you can’t always solve problems. Some problems may be too big for you to solve by yourself while other situations can be improved, though not solved.
• Tell yourself that you are in control of the situation and you are doing all you can to handle it.
How Not to Handle Stress
Sometimes, you may feel like easing your tensions with various artificial means such as smoking, drinking, or taking drugs. These things provide only temporary relief and don’t deal with the underlying causes of your stress. Also, each one could add to your problems:
• Alcohol can help hide your feelings for a while but it doesn’t remove emotional and physical tensions which could build up even more.
• Caffeine is a stimulant which can make you nervous and full of energy.
• Nicotine raises your heart rate and blood pressure and decreases the amount of oxygen traveling in your body, and thereby worsening the physical impact of stress on your body.
When Stress Gets to be Too Much
Occasionally, stress and its effects become too great for you to handle alone. At these times, it’s wise to seek professional help early, which can help prevent a more serious situation later. Some people you can turn to for help are:
• Your physician
• Your employer
• Mental health workers
• Your clergy and other professionals who have experience in helping people with their problems
• A community resource such as a mental health center
Get on top of stress by taking steps to reduce stress-causing elements in your life. Don’t let stress impact your health or lifestyle. Make a conscious effort to control your stress. It can improve the quality of your life and help you be healthier, happier and more productive.