Menanteau Serfontein – 17 September 2021
What is Stress
Stress is a normal part of life and nobody is immune to stressful situations, which can result in a psychological and/or physical reaction. We all need a certain amount of stress to energise and motivate us to take action. However, stress can become a problem when it is overwhelming and when we’re exposed to it for a prolonged period of time. Coping effectively with stress, is all about finding a balance and keeping it at manageable levels.
What causes stress?
As a means of survival, we can recognise and react to any external threats posed to us. The psychological and physical reaction triggering the “fight-or-flight” response, or acute stress response, is a reaction that occurs in response to a perceived threat to survival. Essentially, when we feel we are in danger, our mind tells our body to get ready to “fight, flee or freeze”.
When your brain perceives a threat, it signals to your body to release a burst of hormones that increase your heart rate and raise your blood pressure. This “fight-or-flight” response fuels you to deal with the threat. Once the threat is gone, your body is meant to return to a normal, relaxed state.
Symptoms of excessive stress
People experience stress in many different ways and below is a list of some of the symptoms you may experience when dealing with excessive stress:
- Weight loss
- Sleep disturbances
- Increased irritability
- Anxiety or feelings of panic
- Easily frustrated
- Concentration problems
- Negative self-statements
- Increased alcohol or drug-use
- Under-eating or over-eating
- Fatigue – feeling much more tired than usual
- Working longer hours
- Physical ailments
The Importance of Managing Stress
If you’re living with high levels of stress for prolonged periods, you’re putting your entire well-being at risk. Stress wreaks havoc on your emotional equilibrium, as well as your physical health. It narrows your ability to think clearly, function effectively, and to enjoy life.
Effective stress management helps you to break the hold that excessive stress has on your life, so that you can be happier, healthier, and more productive. The ultimate goal is a balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation, and fun—and the resilience to hold up under pressure and to meet challenges head on.
Techniques of managing stress, give you a range of tools to cope with the demands that you are facing. It can help your mind and body to adapt and to build resilience. Without it, your body might always be on high alert. Over time, chronic stress can become overwhelming and it damages your physical and mental health, your relationships and quality of life.
Ways to Manage Stress
- Identify the sources of stress in your life
Stress management starts with identifying the sources of stress in your life. This isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. While it’s easy to identify major stressors such as changing jobs, moving to another city, dealing with serious illness, or divorce proceedings – pinpointing the sources of chronic stress can be more complicated. It’s all too easy to overlook how your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviours contribute to your everyday stress levels.
You may know that you’re constantly worried about work deadlines, but perhaps it’s your procrastination, rather than the actual job demands, that is causing the stress.
To identify your true sources of stress, you have to look closely and honestly at your habits, attitude and excuses about the stresses in your life and to accept responsibility for the role that you might be playing in creating or maintaining it.
- Apply the 4 A’s of Stress Management: Avoid, Alter, Adapt, or Accept.
2.1 Avoid Unnecessary Stress
It’s not healthy to avoid dealing with a stressful situation that needs to be addressed, but where possible and appropriate, stressors should be eliminated.
Learn how to say “no.” Know your limits and stick to them. Whether in your personal or professional life, taking on more than you can handle is a recipe for stress. Distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts” and, whenever possible, say “no” to taking on too much.
Avoid people who stress you out. If someone consistently causes stress in your life, limit the amount of time you spend with that person, or end the relationship.
Take control of your environment. If the evening news makes you anxious, turn off the TV. If traffic makes you tense, don’t travel during peak traffic times, or take a longer but less-travelled route. If going to the market is an unpleasant chore, do your grocery shopping online.
Cut down your to-do list. Analyze your schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks and prioritize what needs to be done and if you’ve got too much on your plate, drop the tasks that aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list or eliminate them entirely.
2.2 Alter the Situation
If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it. Often, this involves changing the way you communicate and operate in your daily life.
Express feelings instead of bottling them up. If something or someone is bothering you, be more assertive and communicate your concerns in an open and respectful way. If you’ve got an exam to study for and your chatty roommate just got home, say up front that you only have five minutes to talk. If you don’t voice your feelings and boundaries, resentment will build and the stress will increase.
Be willing to compromise. When you ask someone to change their behaviour, be willing to do the same. If you both are willing to bend at least a little, you’ll have a good chance of finding a happy middle-ground.
Create a work-life balance schedule. “All work and no play” often leads to burnout. Try to find a balance between work, family life, social activities, exercise, general daily responsibilities, hobbies, taking breaks, get-aways and relaxation. (Read Article on the site entitled “Body, Soul and Spirit Need to be Nurtured and be in Balance”).
2.3 Adapt to the Stressor
If you can’t avoid or alter (change) the stressor, change yourself. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by changing your expectations and attitude.
Reframe problems. Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Rather than fuming about a traffic jam, look at it as an opportunity to pause and regroup, listen to your favourite radio station, use the time to think, or enjoy some alone time.
Look at the big picture. View the stressful situation in perspective. Ask yourself how important it will be in the long run. Will it matter in a month? A year? Is it really worth getting upset about? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.
Adjust your standards. Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection of yourself and/or others. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to be okay with “good enough”.
Pray and Practice gratitude. When stress is getting you down, pray about it and reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life. This will help you to keep things in perspective.
2.4 Accept the Things you Can’t Change
Some sources of stress are unavoidable and cannot be changed. You can’t prevent or change stressors such as the death of a loved one, a serious illness, or an economic recession. In such cases, the best way to cope with stress is to accept things as they are. Acceptance may be difficult, but in the long run, it’s easier than railing against a situation you can’t change.
Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things in life are beyond our control, particularly the behaviour of other people. Rather than stressing over them, focus on the things you can control, such as the way you choose to react to issues.
Look for the upside. When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth. If your own poor choices contributed to a stressful situation, reflect on them and learn from your mistakes.
Learn to forgive. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes. Let go of anger, resentments and bitterness. Free yourself from negative energy by forgiving and moving on.
Share your feelings. Expressing what you’re going through can be very cathartic, even if there’s nothing you can do to alter the stressful situation. Talk to a trusted friend or make an appointment with a therapist/counsellor.
“God, grant me the Serenity
To accept the things I cannot change…
Courage to change the things I can,
And Wisdom to know the difference.”
When you’re stressed, the last thing you probably feel like doing is getting up and exercising, however we need to realise that physical activity is a huge stress reliever. Exercise releases endorphins that make you feel good, and it can also serve as a valuable distraction from your daily worries.
When taking a break, take a short stroll – preferably outside. When you go shopping, take the stairs instead of the elevator, etc.
- Connect with Others
There is nothing more calming than spending quality time with someone who makes you feel safe and understood. In fact, face-to-face interaction triggers a cascade of hormones that counteracts the body’s defensive “fight-or-flight” response.
Keep in mind that the people you talk to don’t have to be able to fix your stress. Just being able to express yourself, can be therapeutic in itself.
- Manage your Time Better
Poor time management can cause a lot of unnecessary stress. When you’re stretched too thin and running behind, it’s hard to stay calm and focused. Plus, you’ll be tempted to avoid or cut back on all the healthy things you should be doing to keep stress in check, like socializing, exercising and getting enough sleep. (Read Article on the site entitled “Getting Things Done” for guidance on time management and related principles).
- Make Time for Fun and Relaxation
If you regularly make time for fun, relaxation and “me” time, you’ll be in a better place to handle life’s stressors.
Set aside leisure time.
Make time for relaxation techniques. Learn and apply relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises. As you learn and practice these techniques, your stress levels will decrease and your mind and body will become calmer and more centred.
Keep your sense of humour. This includes the ability to laugh at yourself. The act of laughing helps your body to fight stress in a number of ways.
- Adopt a healthy diet
In addition to regular exercise, having a healthy diet can increase your resistance to stress.
- Get enough quality sleep
Adequate sleep fuels your mind, as well as your body. Feeling tired will increase your stress, because it may cause you to think irrationally.
A large amount of the content of this Article was derived from the following sources:
- Article entitled “Stress Management”, Authors: Lawrence Robinson, Melinda Smith, M.A., and Robert Segal, M.A. – HelpGuide.Org Last updated: September 2020 https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/stress-management.htm
- Article entitled “Our Top 5 Stress Management Techniques” by silvercloudhealth – May 8th, 2017 https://www.silvercloudhealth.com/uk/blog/our-top-5-stress-management-techniques
- Article entitled “Stress Basics” by Mayo Clinic Staff https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/basics/stress-basics/hlv-20049495
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