Managing Stress

The ability to cope with life’s struggles varies from person to person: what one person finds stressful may not be a problem for another.

People experience stress at times in our day to day lives and our normal levels of resilience can deal with this to a greater or lesser extent. The more resilient a person is the more able they are to deal with challenges without becoming overwhelmed by them. Long term stress is certainly bad for our mental and physical health.

Common signs are:

Long term health risks from stress can include heart disease, high blood pressure, severe depression, migraine, severe anxiety, low resistance to infection, bowel problems, stomach problems especially ulcers, fatigue and sleep problems. Stress can manifest itself physically, emotionally and/or mentally.

Should I see a GP?

If symptoms are making you unwell it would be advisable to seek help. You could speak to your GP, the practice nurse at the surgery, the occupational health nurse at your workplace (if there is one) or a stress counsellor. You should certainly consult a health professional if you are depressed because of stress, or if stress is causing you anxiety or leading to panic attacks.

Things to try

1. One thing at a time. This is the simplest and best way to start reducing your stress, and you can start today. Focus as much as possible on doing one thing at a time. Pick something to work on. Do only that. Remove distractions such as phones and email while you’re working on that task.

2. Get moving. Do something each day to be active — walk, hike, play a sport, go for a run, do yoga. It doesn’t have to be gruelling to reduce stress. Exercise on a regular basis helps to burn off and use up the stress hormones and neurochemicals. Exercise can help reduce the damage to our health that prolonged stress can cause. In fact, studies have found that exercise often works and can take away the need for medication.

3. Develop one healthy habit this month. Other than getting active, improving your health overall will help with the stress. But do it one habit at a time. Eat fruits and veggies for snacks. Floss every day. Quit smoking. Cook something healthy for dinner. Drink water instead of a soft drink.

4. Use your breath. This means taking a long, slow breath in, and very slowly breathing out. If you do this a few times, and concentrate fully on breathing, you may find it quite relaxing. Some people find that moving from chest breathing to tummy (abdominal) breathing can be helpful. Sitting quietly, try putting one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. You should aim to breathe quietly by moving your abdomen with your chest moving very little. This encourages the diaphragm to work efficiently and may help you avoid over-breathing.

5. Protect space for you. Ring-fence time in your day to unwind and reflect – it will help you recharge your batteries and get things into perspective. Set specific times aside to relax positively. Don’t just let relaxation happen, or not happen, at the mercy of work, family, etc. Plan it, and look forward to it. Different people prefer different things: a long bath, a quiet stroll, sitting and just listening to a piece of music, etc. These times are not wasteful, and you should not feel guilty about not ‘getting on with things’. They can be times of reflection and putting life back in perspective. Some people find it useful to set time aside for a relaxation programme such as meditation or muscular exercises. You can also buy relaxation tapes to help you learn to relax.