Everyone talks about stress, but rarely someone knows how to manage it. We become overloaded and our emotions burst. Some people get ill, some involve in non-constructive behaviours like smoking or drinking, some get depressed. Wouldn’t it be astonishing if we could learn how to manage stress – if we could all become stress managers?!
Stress is a health epidemic of 21st century
The World Health Organization proclaimed stress as “a health epidemic of 21st century”. Even Aristotle and Hippocrates were aware of stress and its adverse effects. Notwithstanding, there is no consensus among experts about the final definition of stress. We can simply say that stress is a state when there is a pressure on an individual, which he can’t handle at the given moment – when the situation is too demanding for individual’s resources to cope with it. What is important to understand is that stress is body’s natural reaction to danger. Our brain reacts to percieved danger by hormonal flood, that causes fight or flight reaction. The blood pressure rises, heart beats faster, we breathe faster, breathing speads up – so that oxygen and nutrients reach our muscles and brain faster, so that we can either fight or flight. Body’s muscles become tensed – for the same reason. We start sweating and our whole body is more energized in order to react to danger. On the contrary, our digestive system slows down as it is not constructive to waste energy on digestion while you are in a dangerous situation. We become less sleepy or we can’t sleep at all because our bodies are alert. We can’t say that stress is bad. If body didn’t react like this, we would not survive. The problem is when our body is overloaded with stress and when we don’t know how to manage it.
You are already aware that stress is influencing your health. Stress has an effect on nearly every system in your body. It can suppress your immune system, upset your digestive and reproductive systems, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and speed up the aging process. It will make you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.
Chronic stress vs. stressful life events
Everyday stress like quarrels, childcare or traffic jam is called chronic stress and it is proved that it predicts a greater amount of physical and psychical diseases than stressful life events like the death of a close person or retirement or imprisonment. Does it seem strange to hear that quarrels with a partner are worse for your health than divorce or even death of your partner? A large amount of research states so. It may not sound too strange if we think it in terms of social support. How often do you receive social support and understanding regarding the traffic jam that stresses you every day? Never I guess. On the contrary, when you get divorced or get seriously ill, there is a bunch of friends and family members that gives you support, listens to you and shares emotions with you, gives you the attention you need and tries to help you in all sorts of ways. To say that situation or event is stressful, a person needs to percieve it more or less stressful and give it some value. A specific life event is not stressful by it’s nature. Holmes & Rahe declared Death of a spouse to be the most stressful life event, but if a spouse was a molester, threatening your life day by day, it would rather be relief than stress for you than if your spouse was the love of your life and your best friend.
Stress that you experience when you undergo a traumatic event is called traumatic stress. It can cause acute stress disorder. Reactions to a traumatic event are normal and expected in an non-normal situation, but they don’t have to be the same for every person. It is very common, and in fact quite normal, for people to experience reactions to a particularly terrifying experience. When you have experienced a traumatic event, even though the crisis is over you may still be experiencing, or may experience later, strong emotional, physical or cognitive reactions. Reactions to trauma may include profuse sweating, diarrhoea, dizziness, chest pain, rapid heart beat, sleep disturbances, nausea, stomac problems, tremors, fear, anxiety, depression, grief, guilt, sadness, feeling lost, isolated or abandoned, anger, irritability, feeling numb, shocked, worried, or you might have problems with slow thinking and confusion, hypervigilance, difficulties with making decisions, problem solving, calculating, concentrating, remembering, naming common objects, but also dreaming or seeing the traumatic event over and over. These are all normal reactions to traumatic stress and you need to know that there is a help for this problem.
Symptoms of stress
Symptoms of stress can be emotional, physiological / physical , cognitive and behavioural.
Emotional symptoms may include: depression, anxiety, agitation, anger, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, isolation and loneliness, but also other mental or emotional health problems.
Physiological / physical symptoms may include: aches and pains, chest pain, rapid heart rate, diarrhea or constipation, nausea, dizziness, frequent colds or flu, loss of sex drive etc.
Cognitive symptoms may include: constant worry, problems with concentration and judgment, anxious or racing thoughts or others.
Behavioural symptoms may include: apetite change, change in sleep patterns – sleeping too much or too little, waking up, using alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, gambling, nervous habits like nail biting, excoriation, withdrawing from others, neglecting responsibilities etc.
How to manage the stress?
Luckily, there are many techniques that help you deal with stress. You can manage stress by taking care of yourself. You don’t have to spend the whole day in a week doing all these things at one, but you can start every day with breathing, end the day with visualisation and take 2 minutes breaks from work to be mindful or drink a cup of green tea.
Breathing is one of the most useful techniques if you are stressed, tired, anxious or you have problems with breathing connected to caugh, astma, allergy or any other. Breathing is the first and the most important things I teach my clients who have problems with panic attacks. You need to be aware that breathing will not take your problems away, but it will remove or reduce your symptoms.
My favourite breathing technique is 3-3. It means three second breathing in and 3 seconds breathing out… If you do it 10 times, it will take you just one minute. Doing it 4 times a day will have amazing effect on your health. Don’t skip this technique even if you are the healthiest man alive!!
Progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is a method that helps relieve that tension. In progressive muscle relaxation, you tense a group of muscles as you breathe in, and you relax them as you breathe out. You work on your muscle groups in a certain order. The body learns to recognize where the tension is and how to release it. When your body is physically relaxed, you cannot feel anxious.
Body scan is a combination of above mentioned techniques. Body scanning involves paying attention to parts of the body and its sensations in a gradual sequence from feet to head. By mentally scanning yourself, you bring awareness to every single part of your body, noticing any aches, pains, tension, or general discomfort.
Visualisation and hypnosis
Visualisation, as one form of a hypnosis, is truly amazing thing when we talk about relaxation and relief from stress. Try to imagine spaces you love, activities you enjoy in, sounds, smell, taste of what you like and what relaxes you. Go into details during your visualisation – or simply find guided visualisation in an audio format. Put your earphones on, close your eyes and go for a beautiful, relaxing journey.
Exercise reduces the levels of stress hormones in your body. At the same time, it stimulates production of endorphins, which make you feel good. You can take long walks, speed walking, running, hiking or any other physical activity. It will lift both you mental and physical health. Remember not to push it too much, as running 6 hours a day is physical stress. Keep it constant and moderate! Whenever you have possibility, do the chosen activity somewhere in nature, to combine benefits of nature and activity.
Aromatherapy can reduce the perception of stress, increase contentment, and decrease levels of stress hormones. Try lavander, peppermint and lemon essential oils. Chamomile and jasmine can also help to calm the nerves. Vanilla fragrance is well-known for being a potent relaxer. Cinnamon makes you feel refreshed.
Green tea is high in l-theanine, an amino acid that might reduce anxiety. One 2017 study found that students who drank green tea experienced consistently lower levels of stress than students in the placebo group. Decaffeinated green tea, in particular, has been scientifically proven to both decrease your stress levels and improve your quality of sleep.
Pepperming tea is refreshing sip, delicious both hot and cold. It makes you feel relaxed.
Chamomile tea has a smooth flavor and it makes it easy to sip on and relax. not only reduces stress and anxiety, but it also helps treat insomnia. Just like peppermint tea, chamomile tea has great benefits in relaxing the muscles and reducing irritability.
A cup of jasmine herbal tea is one of the most beneficial drinks that calms down your senses and helps your system to rejuvenate.
Choose healthy food
Eating a diet full of processed and convenience food, refined carbohydrates, and sugary snacks can worsen symptoms of stress, while a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, high-quality protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, can help you better cope with stress.
Quality sleep is too important for both physical and mental health. You need to adopt good sleep hygiene – go to and out of bed around the same time, eliminate screens an hour or two before going to bed, read books and drink tea or milk before going to bed. Feeling tired can increase stress by causing you to think irrationally. If you have problems sleeping, follow my articles and I will teach you different tecniques to improve your sleep.
Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves.
A fast way to relieve stress is by engaging one or more of your senses — sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or movement. The key is to find the sensory input that works for you, but try using them all. Focus your attention on what you see, what colours surround you, what taste do you feel, what you smell, the touch and pressure of your feet on the floor, the wind on your face, the warmth… Just try to be in a moment fully. If toughts come to your mind, just notice them without thinking if these toughts are good or bad, just watch them come and go. Deliberately pay attention to your breathing. Just take one moment at a time.
The good thing about mindfulness is that you can practice it wherever you are and no matter what you do. Be engaged in the moment.
One of the best things for stress is connection to other people. Talk, laugh, share emotions, hug, kiss and touch. It makes you feel relaxed, happy and present.
I personally believe that social support is the number one factor in beating the most problems.
What do you do when you are stressed out?