Stress involves internal and external demands placed on us. Internal demands are within us, either in our bodies or our thinking. External demands are outside of us such as work, environment, relationships, etc. Some stress can be within our control, though it may not feel like it, such as choosing to accept another task, or thinking that we must carry out a particular number of tasks within a day. Some stress is outside our control such as being retrenched from a job or being a victim of a crime.
Stress is a natural and necessary part of living. Stress helps with our survival by activating the body with adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones) to either fight or flee a threatening situation – this fight or flight has occurred since our cave-men and cave-women days. We may not have the same threats as our ancestors (sabre toothed tigers) but we essentially respond physiologically the same way.
The level of stress or the impact of stress experienced can be mediated by our thinking and behaviours. That is, we can set ourselves up and train ourselves to learn to become stressed. For example, have a think about your self-talk (internal dialogue in your head). Do you use phrases like, “I should be doing…” or “I need to go to…” or “I ought to be doing…” These words are demands and inherently stressful. They could be replaced with “I would like to…” Can you hear the difference? If thinking places certain demands on us that are causing distress or feeling overwhelmed, then it is time to change that thinking.
Stress is a strong motivator, but too much for too long can be harmful to our well-being. Just thinking about something that is stressful can activate the body’s stress hormones. For example, worrying about an important deadline can cause the adrenal glands to release a cocktail of hormones into our bloodstream. This affects thinking and behaviour.
Prolonged or excessive stress levels may lead to:
Relationship problems (and breakdown)
Accidents – concentration is affected
Lower productivity – due to poor focus and concentration
Poor relationships with friends, colleagues or family
Health problems such as heart disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), high blood pressure, headaches or migraines, asthma, allergies, etc.
Mental illness – may trigger symptoms or exacerbate an existing condition.
What can you do to manage your stress?
- Recognise your symptoms – write down what you have noticed when you are stressed (i.e. your symptoms: physical, emotional, thoughts and behaviours). If you recognise your symptoms you are better able to do something about them.
- Develop a stress management plan – prevention is better than cure.
- Exercise – when you exercise you use up the stress hormones and release endorphins (feel good hormones) in your body. Therefore, working out is relaxing!
- Change your attitude – evaluate priorities.
- Slow down!!!
- Join a laughter group – Laughter, like exercise, releases endorphins, even if it’s fake laughter. Your body doesn’t know the difference.
- Try relaxation or meditation – learn how to do this on your own or join a group.
- Be social.
- Get creative – find a hobby or make time for an existing one on a regular basis.
- Drink tea – reduce your caffeine intake and try some herbal teas like chamomile, peppermint or lemon.
- Simplify your life – get rid of clutter.
- Book a massage.
- Vitamins – start a diet of healthy food today, which includes fruit, vegetables, whole-grains, etc.
- Listening to music – find some music that reminds you of a happy memory or is deeply calming.
Mental Health Fact
Stress may trigger some mental illnesses or may prolong episodes. Stress can also result when a person develops a mental illness.
“The birds of worry and care fly above your head, this you cannot change. But that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.”