Stress management is seldom considered to be a necessary requirement of personal health care, but it should be. Given today's hectic and demanding lifestyles and the challenges faced by many of us on a daily basis, the need to manage stress is critical. While some measure of stress is inevitable, failure to manage or reduce stress levels can lead to depression, diseases and the inability to truly enjoy life.
Every day we are faced with challenges on our jobs, at school, in our families, and our personal lives. Our ability to manage stress, determines how well we cope with life's challenges. It is important that we understand how to respond to and deal with challenges, in order to minimize their harmful effects on our health and well-being.
The causes of stress are numerous and can vary form one individual to another. Some things that may be extremely stressful to one person may have little or no effect on someone else. For instance, being asked to make a public speech may cause extreme anxiety in some people, while others may relish this opportunity. Some people are motivated and energized by certain challenges while others become anxious and nervous.
While it may be impossible to completely avoid stressful situations, it is our response to those seemingly stressful situations that really matters. Stress affects not only our mental and emotional well-being but it can also affect physical health. Major organs such as the heart and kidneys are susceptible to the harmful effects of excessive stress. Effective stress management is, therefore, necessary in order to optimize mental, emotional and physical health.
Stress is a (non-specific) response of the body to any demand made upon it. The body responds in a similar manner whether the stress is positive or negative. Positive stress is known as eustress and negative stress is known as distress. Anything that causes stress is called a stressor.
Examples of stressors that can cause eustress (positive stress) for some people include: going to the prom, playing in a championship game, and starting a new job. These same stressors, however, could result in distress (negative stress) for other people. The difference is our response to situations. Effective stress management techniques can help us to respond positively rather than negatively to situations.
The body reacts to stress (whether eustress of distress) in three (3) stages:
The first is the alarm stage. The body recognizes stressors and prepares for "fight or flight" (dealing with or escaping the situation) by releasing hormones such as adrenaline. This initial reaction may trigger such short-term symptoms as tense neck and shoulder muscles, inability to sleep, constipation, irritability, and fatigue. These symptoms will usually disappear as a person begins to cope with his or her particular problem. The body's immediate physical responses include:
The second stage is known as the resistance stage. During this stage the body attempts to adjust to the stressor and return to normal. The heart and respiration rate decrease and hormones are secreted, which give the body the energy to cope with the stressor. This phase may be of very short duration. If, however, the problem persists, the third stage may occur.
The third stage is the exhaustion stage and may lead to diseases. Prolonged stress can affect the body in a number of ways. If allowed to continue long enough, and your body cannot cope with the stress, you may suffer from short term effects such as headaches, diarrhea, dizziness, and fatigue. This underscores the importance of stress management, to avoid the adverse effects of stress on our health and well-being.
Long term stress over weeks or even years, may affect the heart, kidneys, blood pressure, stomach, muscles, and joints, and may cause severe headaches, depression, and fatigue.
Since it is almost impossible to avoid stress altogether, it is important to learn how to manage stress. Failure to do so could lead to diseases, depression, and an unhealthy, unhappy lifestyle. If you want to avoid kidney failure, heart failure, stroke, high blood pressure, and other related conditions, basic stress management techniques are essential.
Here are seven (7) suggestions that could help to effectively manage and reduce stress...
Keep things in perspective.
Our perception, or the way we view a problem, determines our response and stress level. It helps greatly if you are able to keep your problems in focus or perspective, in order to develop an appropriate reaction. Everyone experiences annoyances such as having to wait in lines or being stuck in traffic. The initial response of most people is to become annoyed or worried. Instead, you should make a conscious effort to avoid this response and try to relax.
Some things are outside of your control and it is pointless and unhealthy to worry or fuss about them. Try focusing on something else that is more pleasant and positive. Sing, whistle, listen to music... do something positive to take your mind off the problem.
Practice assertive behavior.
When dealing with problems try to be assertive rather than aggressive. The theory of assertive behavior is that every person has certain basic rights. If those rights are being infringed, then by all means address it... but in a civilized, confident manner. If you have to address the person responsible for causing your problems, maintain eye contact with them, stand or sit straight and steady, and speak confidently in a clear voice. This stress management technique is not always easy, but as you practice it your confidence will begin to increase and you will become better at it. You will find that problems are resolved much more easily and you will maintain a much lower stress level.
Be realistic when setting goals.
Realistic goal setting may sound simple but is an important stress management technique. Very often we set unrealistic goals and then become frustrated and stressed-out when we do not achieve them. The key to proper goal setting is to first understand exactly what it will take to accomplish a particular goal, then assess whether you are equipped to realistically achieve it. Ask yourself questions such as:
Goal setting is a good stress management technique, but only if the goals can be realistically accomplished. Sometimes it is difficult to determine how achievable a goal is, but continuous assessment can help. If you realize that your goals are unrealistic, don't be afraid to revise them. This will help to make the task less daunting and stressful.
Learn time management.
Time management techniques are an integral part of stress management. If you are able to implement this strategy you will find that you are able to achieve your goals more efficiently and effectively. Time management involves setting priorities and allocating sufficient time to accomplish your tasks.
Keep an appointment book or calendar to organize your time and remind yourself of important dated and events. At the beginning of each day, write down task and events in order of priority. Next to each event or task, write the estimated time it would take to complete it. Don't try to crowd too many things into one day. Make allowances for setbacks and allow yourself time to relax. At the end of each day or at the beginning of the following day, evaluate your list to see what was accomplished and use it as a guide when preparing your next list.
If you are able to implement some of these simple time management techniques into your daily routine, you will find that you are able to accomplish a lot more each day and you will feel less frustrated and stressed-out.
Watch your diet and limit certain foods.
Not many people associate diet with stress management, but it plays an important part. Consumption of certain foods can cause chemical reactions that leave you feeling irritated. Eating foods with high amounts of caffeine, such as colas, chocolate, coffee and some teas, and foods with high concentrations of sugar, such as candies and some snacks, can cause you to be irritable and less able to cope with stress.
Eating a nutritious, balanced diet will help you look good and perform better, making you less susceptible to stress. A balanced diet is not only necessary for optimizing health but is also an effective stress management technique.
Use exercise to reduce stress.
Exercise can be a very beneficial way to reduce stress. It will use up the excess adrenaline produced to prepare you for the fight or flight response, allowing your heart rate, respiration rate, and blood pressure to return to normal. In addition, as you exercise you improve your fitness level, which will keep you from being easily fatigued and better able to cope with negative stressors. Similar to diet, exercise is multi-purpose. It is necessary for health optimization and it can also be an effective stress management technique.
Learn stress diversion activities.
Another useful stress management technique is to participate in activities that can reduce, eliminate, or divert tension. Such activities include:
There are many other activities that can be used for relaxation and stress management. Just find something that is enjoyable to you.
Stress management and the ability to cope with stress are important skills for maintaining good physical and mental health. Failure to manage stress or reduce stress can lead to illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, stomach ulcers, neck and lower back pains, bowel problems, anxiety, and kidney problems.
Stress can also affect certain skin conditions, such as acne and hives. To avoid or minimize many of these conditions, implement and practice at least some of the stress management techniques outlined above.