This article was compiled by Dr. G. M. Siddiqui M.D,
CEO, Medical Services, Lifeline Healthcare.
Everyone feels stressed from time to time. Not all stress is bad. All of us have a stress response to cope with our life events, and it can be life-saving. But chronic stress can cause both physical and mental harm.
What does stress do to our body?
Stress sets off a chain of events. First, you have a stressful situation that's usually upsetting but not harmful. The body reacts to it by releasing a hormone, adrenaline, that temporarily causes your breathing and heart rate to speed up and your blood pressure to rise. These physical reactions prepare you to deal with the situation by confronting it or by running away from it — the "fight or flight" response. When stress is constant (chronic), your body remains in high gear for days or weeks at a time. It’s not just being unhappy. It’s having biochemical changes that predispose people to have other health problems, including heart problems, hypertension, diminished body defenses etc.
Different people may feel stress in different ways. Common responses to stress are listed below.
Aches and Pains*
- # Headache
- # Backache
- # Neck ache
- # Stomach ache
- # Tight muscles
- # Clenched jaw
Energy Level and Sleep*
- # Feeling tired without a good reason
- # Trouble sleeping
- # Anxiety
- # Anger
- # Depression
- # Helplessness
- # Out of control
- # Tense
Other Emotional Signs
- # Easily irritated
- # Impatient
- # Forgetful
*Some physical signs of stress may be caused by a medical condition or by medicines you take. If you aren't sure what's causing your physical symptoms, ask your doctor if stress might be the cause.
How do we manage our stress?
Some people cope with stress more effectively than others. It's important to know your limits when it comes to stress, so you can avoid more serious health effects. Your mind deserves better than to be loaded down with the never-ending job of worrying! Stressed brains do not operate the same way as non-stressed brains. Creativity, productivity, motivation and sometimes even your immune system will all suffer chronic stress.
Assess your Stress level
Step 1: Learn about your “Low Zone.” Stress has a way of becoming chronic as the worries of everyday living weigh us down.
Take a look at this continuum of Stress Level:
1 — I’m creatively and cheerfully engaged in life.
2 — I’m relaxed and expect to stay this way.
3–5 — I can handle stresses and think of positive solutions to my challenges.
6–7 — I’m moderately irritable, anxious or overwhelmed, and stresses feel burdensome .
8 — My problems seem unsolvable. Many things are irritating or upsetting me.
9 — Help! I’m about to lose it!
10 — I have chart-topping negative emotions
Where do you put yourself now? How do you know when you’ve passed the moderate point? Identify for yourself the small changes you can detect in your mood as you move up the continuum. If you take time to learn your emotional cues, you can learn to regulate your stress so that you spend more of your time in the “low zone” (at numbers 1-5).
Step 2: Learn to Live in the Low Zone. Once you’ve passed the mid-zone mark into the high-stress zone, it’s time to take a stress-management moment. Whatever works best for you, take the time to bring your stress level back closer to the “low zone.” Notice what happens to your body and mind when you take these breaks.
The Benefits of Low-Zone Living The benefits of low zone living are plentiful! You’ll feel more creative, more alive, and more able to enjoy small moments of happiness. Furthermore, you reserve your “high zone stress responses” for times when it’s more appropriate. So let’s learn to enjoy the gifts of life and put aside the stresses whenever we can.
Take Action to Control Stress
Five Ways to Deal with Stress
1. Positive Self-Talk.
Self-Talk is one way to deal with stress. We all talk to ourselves. Self-talk can be positive ("I can do this" or "Things will work out") or negative ("I'll never get well" or "I'm so stupid").Negative self-talk increases stress. Positive self-talk helps you calm down and control stress. With practice, you can learn to turn negative thoughts into positive one
"I can't do this."
"I'll do the best I can."
"Everything is going wrong."
"I can handle things if I take one step at a time."
"I hate it when this happens."
"I know how to deal with this; I've done it before."
To help you feel better, practice positive self-talk every day — in the car, at your desk, before you go to bed or whenever you notice negative thoughts. Remember: Positive self-talk helps you relieve stress and deal with the situations that cause you stress.
2.Emergency Stress Stoppers.
There are many stressful situations — at work, at home, on the road and in public places. Emergency stress stoppers help you deal with stress on the spot.
Try these emergency stress stoppers. You may need different stress stoppers for different situations and sometimes it helps to combine them.
- # Count 1 to 10 before you speak.
- # Take three to five deep breaths.
- # Walk away from the stressful situation, and say you'll handle it later.
- # Go for a walk.
- # Don't be afraid to say "I'm sorry" if you make a mistake.
- # Break down big problems into smaller parts. For example, answer one letter or phone call per day, instead of dealing with everything at once.
- # Smell a rose, hug a loved one or smile at your neighbor.
- # Consider meditation or prayer to break the negative cycle.
When stress makes you feel bad, do something that makes you feel good. Doing things you enjoy is a natural way to fight off stress.
Try to do at least one thing every day that you enjoy, even if you only do it for 15 minutes.
- 1. Take up a hobby, new or old.
- 2. Read a favorite book, short story, magazine or newspaper.
- 3. Have coffee or a meal with friends.
- 4. Play golf, tennis, ping-pong or swimming.
- 5. Listen to music during or after you practice relaxation.
- 6. Take a nature walk — listen to the birds, identify trees and flowers.
- 7. Make a list of everything you still want to do in life.
- 8. Watch an old movie on TV or rent a video.
4. Daily Relaxation.
Relaxation is more than sitting in your favorite chair watching TV. To relieve stress, relaxation should calm the tension in your mind and body. Some good forms of relaxation are yoga, tai chi (a series of slow, graceful movements) and meditation. Like most skills, relaxation takes practice. Many people join a class to learn and practice relaxation skills.
Deep breathing is a form of relaxation you can learn and practice at home using the following steps. It's a good skill to practice as you start or end your day. With daily practice, you will soon be able to use this skill whenever you feel stress.
- # Sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes.
- # Picture yourself in a peaceful place. Perhaps you're lying on the beach or walking in the mountains. Hold this scene in your mind.
- # Inhale and exhale. Focus on breathing slowly and deeply for 10 minutes or more.
- # Try to take at least 5 to 10 minutes every day for relaxation.
5. Fight Stress with Healthy Habits.
Healthy habits can protect you from the harmful effects of stress.
Here are 10 positive healthy habits you may want to develop.
1. Talk with family and friends.
A daily dose of friendship is great medicine. Call or writer friends and family to share your feelings, hopes and joys and ask them to share theirs.
2. Engage in daily physical activity.
Regular physical activity can relieve mental and physical tension. Physically active adults have lower risk of depression and loss of mental functioning. Physical activity can be a great source of pleasure, too. Try walking, swimming, biking or dancing every day.
3. Embrace the things you are able to change.
While we may not be able to do some of the things we once enjoyed, we are never too old to learn a new skill, work toward a goal, or love and help others.
4. Remember to laugh.
Laughter makes us feel good. Don't be afraid to laugh out loud at a joke, a funny movie or a comic strip, even when we're alone.
5. Give up the bad habits.
Too much alcohol, cigarettes or caffeine can increase blood pressure. If you smoke, decide to quit now. If you do drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
6. Slow down.
Try to "pace" instead of "race." Plan ahead and allow enough time to get the most important things done without having to rush.
7. Get enough sleep.
Try to get six to eight hours of sleep each night. If you can't sleep, take steps to help reduce stress and depression. Physical activity also may improve the quality of sleep and life in general.
8. Get organized.
Use "to do" lists to help you focus on your most important tasks. Approach big tasks one step at a time. For example, start by organizing just one part of your life.
9. Practice giving back.
Volunteer your time or spend time helping out a friend. Helping others helps you.
10. Try not to worry.
The world won't end if your grass isn't mowed or your kitchen isn't cleaned. You may need to do these things, but right now might not be the right time.