Last week in "Stress (Part 1) - What is it? What causes it?" we looked at what stress is from a physical perspective and what the primary causes of it are. In Part 2 we'll look at the effects of stress on our health and more importantly what we can do to manage it when it does occur.
Effects of stress
Ordinarily, as soon as the "Fight or Flight" response has worn off the body returns to normal. However, if someone is subjected to stress over a prolonged period of time they may start to show some of the following warning signs:
- Mood swings
- Nervous laughter
- Low energy
- Memory loss
- Excessive sweating
- Easily bored
- Lack of forgiveness, understanding and compassion towards others
- Lowered immune system resulting in colds and regular minor ailments
- Self-abuse (including alcohol and drug abuse)
- Suicidal thoughts
In turn health risks start to develop including the following:
With stress being a major contributor to the creation or depreciation of these conditions it's vital that we recognise the sypmtoms of stress either in ourseleves or others and take action.
So we are all pretty familar with the all too common and ineffectives (sometimes dangerous) methods of dealing with stress:
- Drugs (prescription and recreational)
- Over (or under) eating
However, there are better ways!
- Put things into perspective: - Sometimes easier said than done I know, but just taking 5 mins out to look at an issue objectively, breaking it down and recognising it for what it is can really help. Remember, often the causes of stress can be an accumulation of little things rather than one big insurmountable problem.
- Positive self talk and affirmations: - You know all those pictures with positive motivational messages you see on Twitter and Facebook? They are popular and get shared so many times for a reason. Affirmations work. Select some favourites and keep a few with you to refer to if your confidence or energy levels start to drop. Pin one to the inside of the bathroom cabinet, another over the bed, one to the sun visor in the car. Also, repeat them to yourself in front of the mirror. You'll feel silly at first, but if you're on your own...who cares?
- Breathing patterns - There's a lot to be said for learning to breathe properly! Most of us don't and taking the time to learn some breathing exercises that you can put into practice when you are feeling stressed can help a lot. Yoga and meditation classes are great places to learn to breathe. A friend of mine even had the word "breathe" tattood on her wrist to remind herself to "breathe" properly when she started feeling anxious.
- Exercise - The positive effects of exercise on stress, depression and exercise are well documented. Above all it provides us with a healthy outlet for build up of all those stress hormones which so easily turn into aggression. "But I don't have the time!" I hear you cry. You do! In fact you can't afford not to, because you will be more productive and more efficient if you deal with the stress in a healthy way, and exercise has so many other benefits too which will help such as better sleep patterns, more energy, sense of accomplishment, feel good endorphines and so on. Why not search for a fitness class local to your home or office now.
- Talk to someone you trust - As Bob Hoskins used to say in the BT ads years ago... "It's good to talk". "A problem shared..." and all that. The other person doesn't have to find a solution, they just have to listen. Just getting something out in the open helps to get things in perspective again.
- Accept what you can't - Reinhold Niebuhr said "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Sometimes the best solution is just to let go of a problem. If you can't change something or someone and there is nothing you can do, then worry, guilt, stress, anger, etc. are all wasted energy. Move on and focus on something else. Come back to the other issue another day and maybe things will have changed such that you can do something about it. Although sometimes it's more about changing our attitude to something than it is changing the thing itself!
- Relaxation techniques - Everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for you, so find the techniques that help you to relax. It may be breathing exercises like we discussed above, sitting away from the world and quiety reading, going for a walk, dancing, sex, listening to music, a gentle swim, yoga... whatever. Find what works for you.
- Seek professional guidance - If you get to a point where you are unable to manage the stress yourself, seek professional help BEFORE some health issues such as those dicsussed above start to manifest. You may qualify for counselling, therapy, self help courses, etc. You may feel better having just told someone if you haven't already, and while I'm not a big fan of drugs in any form, prescription anti-depressants do have their place in the world and can help people find enough breathing space to do deal with the larger issues in their own time.
There are numerous self help books on stress management and if you, like most people, find yourself suffering from stress at some point in your life then I encourage you to make use of these and all the other resources that are available these days, to find a healthy way of managing stress.