Stress Relief

These days we are all only too aware of stress and what it can do to our minds, our bodies and our health. But of course stress is not a new phenomena and even our ancient ancestors, living in caves, had to face stressful situations from external forces such as weather extremes and predators. The animal kingdom too, has to face similar stress today and has done so through the ages. Both man and animal share the “fight or flight” response when faced with such stressors. Stress is caused by the forces from the outside world affecting the individual and is therefore a form of energy. Although in the modern world we think of stress as a negative thing, it can actually be neutral, negative or even positive. So that because of stress, man has adapted, evolved, survived and mastered all manner of challenges.

Signs and symptoms of stress

Our experience of stress is different for every individual so it is very difficult to lay down any norms. But there are some similar signs and symptoms of stress becoming a problem and these are:

o Sleep disturbances
o Muscle tension
o Headaches
o Gastrointestinal disturbances
o Fatigue
o Nervousness and anxiety
o Changes in eating habits including overeating
o Loss of enthusiasm or energy
o Mood changes
o Unhealthy behaviors such as the excessive use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs

Women have twice the rate of depression and anxiety disorders compared to men.

Medical research has evidence that links chronic stress levels to

o Anxiety disorders
o Depression
o High blood pressure
o Cardiovascular disease
o Gastrointestinal diseases,
o Some cancers
o Premature ageing

Overwhelming stress (such as that experienced by many at the time of 9-11 terrorist attacks) may go on to cause either temporary or chronic symptoms of stress called posttraumatic stress disorder.

So although some stress can be a good thing, too much stress is harmful to our health.

How to manage stress

o Exercise is one of the best ways to help manage stress.
o Meditation and relaxation techniques are very beneficial.
o Keep alcohol to the minimum and cut out all drug and tobacco use as these substances can sensitize the stress response.
o Be careful about prescription drugs as some of these can be counter productive in dealing with stress.
o Take breaks from your work situation whether it is a walk at lunchtime, a relaxing weekend or a regular vacation.
o Try to create structure and routine in your work and home life so that you know what to expect. This can help you cope better with the sudden “unexpected” happening.

Stress is a normal part of life and we can either let it help us learn and grow or we can let it cause us significant problems. The management of stress is mostly up to us to be willing to make the changes necessary for a healthy lifestyle but if you really feel you cannot cope and the stresses have become overwhelming, then seek help from a stress management or mental health counselor or clinic. They are trained to help, listen and advise.