Stress is the 'wear and tear' your mind and body experiences as you attempt to cope with a continually demanding and changing environment. Excessive, prolonged and unrelieved stress can have a harmful effect on your mental and physical wellbeing. It can manifest as recurrent infections, strained muscles, headaches, increased symptoms of anxiety (sweaty palms, palpitations etc) and irregularities in bowel movements, sleep, energy and appetite. If left unmanaged, it could trigger a variety of harmful lifestyle choices which may lead to chronic ill-health. But not all stress is negative. Some stress can have a positive effect by ensuring motivation and awareness, and providing stimulation needed to cope with challenging situations. Irrespective of the nature of the stress, it is vital to your complete wellbeing that you manage your stress. The benefits of managing stress include:
- Improved sleep patterns and quality of sleep;
- Increased physical and mental energy;
- Improved sexual drive;
- Improved concentration and memory;
- Improved sense of control over your life;
- Improved appetite and quality of nutrition;
- Decrease stress related health problems e.g. heart attacks;
- Improved appreciation for life and others around you;
Strategies and tips
You can start by following these easy tips and strategies:
- Slow down your breathing – Inhale and exhale slowly and deeply (e.g., inhale for a count of 5, hold, and then exhale for a count of five). This works in two ways – it settles your energy and takes your focus away from the stress and anxiety provoking trigger. This is a very effective method to start with.
- Distance yourself - Imagine that you are watching yourself as someone else would, with friendly curiosity. Observe, uncritically, your emotions and sensations and reactions. This creates distance between you and your stress and helps you to take control and manage your stress – instead of the other way around!
- Press your feet into the floor - By doing this you shift your focus away from your mind (and the stress) and into your body. Imagine that you are a tree and your feet are the roots. "Plant" yourself firmly and blow tension out of your roots into the ground. Breathe in calm energy from the ground back up through your roots.
- Laugh - Be humorous! Laugh at yourself and the stress! Laugh at the stress! Everyone can benefit from a bit more laughter.
Other strategies for managing your stress:
- Surround yourself with fun, positive and uplifting people;
- Hit the gym;
- Watch your diet (reduce your intake of caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, sugar, salt, and fat);
- Pamper yourself by going for a massage now and again;
- Take up meditation, Tai-chi or Yoga;
- Regular holidays and time away – active holidays or lazing on the beach not only reduce stress, but also give something to look forward to, itself important in reducing stress.
Balance – this is the big key word. If work, leisure, health and relationships are in balance, the risk of stress becoming disastrous is minimized.