There are different kinds of stress and not all of them are bad. When we use our muscles, we put stress on our bones and this can help us improve our bone density. When we set goals, and are committed to achieving them, we place some voluntary stress on ourselves to help keep us motivated to reach them. When we find ourselves in a stressful situation at work it can help us get creative about finding new ways of doing things that can help improve our processes.
When we are feeling constantly anxious, or dis-empowered, an unhealthy type of stress can build up that may become damaging to our body as well as our self-esteem. This type of stress needs to be faced and addressed. If we let it continue, and do not find ways of taking the pressure off, toxins can build up in the body that can contribute to illnesses such as heart disease, stroke and depression.
Triggers for Stress
There are different ways to achieve successful stress management when we experience chronic stress. The approach that works for you will depend on the cause of the stress in the first place. It may be an external pressure from family, friends or people who have differing viewpoints to you, such as dominant personalities at work, or bullies at school. You may be concerned for the well being of someone who is important to you and is not looking after themselves, or maybe ill or having a difficult time. Sometimes a nutritional deficiency can cause physical feelings of anxiety or fear, such as panic attacks.
The stress you feel may also be an internal pressure you place on yourself to act or look a certain way, or achieve certain financial or personal goals. It could also result from living in a way that conflicts with your personal values, and perhaps being afraid to change your situation to become more reflective of what you really think and feel. Feeling isolated or a fear of rejection or violence can also cause stress. Feeling powerless when confronted by a situation that disturbs you can also trigger a stress-response in the body.
Aging can also be a source of stress, especially if there is anxiety about money, a despondency around what that person has done (or not done) in their lifetime and other unresolved concerns.
Whatever the causes of the stress you are experiencing, it’s important to become clear on what the trigger is for you, so you can start to find ways to deal with it.
Ways of Managing Stress
1. Allow Yourself Sometime to Reflect on What is Causing Your Stress
You can then map out a plan of action. Taking action, no matter how small, will help improve how you feel and build self-esteem, even if the issue that has triggered the stress is beyond your power to resolve alone.
Exercise helps the body balance out stress hormones, and triggers the release of endorphins that can make your feel better. The more stressed you are, the more committed you need to be to doing some physical activity. At the very least, go for a daily walk for 30 minutes, or ride a bike or do an exercise class at the local gym or yoga school. Vigorous exercise is best.
It sounds silly but when people are a feeling anxious they don’t even realize they are holding their breath or have shallow breathing. This triggers a physical response in the body causing it to release adrenaline that makes our anxiety worse. Become aware of your breath and take a few deep breaths. If you can, study yoga breathing and spend 10 minutes at the start and end of each day simply breathing deeply into the belly (not chest).
4. Eat Healthy Meals Regularly
Don’t skip meals. Choose light foods, lots of vegetables and drink plenty of water, so your body is getting enough nutrients to cope with the minerals and vitamins being used up by the state of “fight or flight” you are living with.
5. Organize Yourself
Organize your time, your cupboards, your shoes, your bedroom, your address book… whatever it is that has been “left”. Make yourself feel better by doing something positive, no matter how small. Organizing our lives a bit better is an easy way to make ourselves quickly feel good. Other aspects of our lives may remain worrisome and beyond our control but we can be proud of ourselves for looking after the things that are within our grasp.
6. Get an Alternative Viewpoint
It’s easy to surround ourselves with people that will agree with us, and confirm our point of view, even if we have a flawed idea of what is going on. Seeking new information that differs from our current thinking about the area of concern, even if it challenges us, can provide us with unexpected answers and help us find a new way of coping or resolving the thing that has been the trigger for our stress. Sometimes we need a counselor to provide this level of genuinely helpful insight, or a trusted but objective friend or relative may also be a helpful source of guidance. Find someone new to talk to about it.
7. Face It
Whatever is causing the stress in our lives will not go away by itself. The longer we try to deny or avoid the cause of our anxiety and stress, the more damaging it will become. Sometimes the best approach to stress management is simply to prepare, then tackle the issue head on. This does not mean being aggressive; a measured approach will usually be more constructive. We need to make sure our efforts to resolve the stress do not create more problems for ourselves. If there is nothing we can do to resolve the issue then we need to become peaceful with the idea of “letting it be”, and caring for ourselves as we process this.
Stress management is complex, just as people are complex. It can seem overwhelming at times. Small steps in the right direction are the best way to begin. If we remain committed to reducing our stress and caring for our health, then hopefully we will eventually find ourselves in a new situation where our stress levels are much more manageable, and we are happier.
Photo: Pandiyan V