In the first of a two-part blog series on STRESS, Dr. Anna King talks about how to identify stress, how to manage it more effectively and how to ‘turn stress into success.’
Why is it important to address stress?
Stress touches all corners of our lives including work and relationships. If left unresolved it can lead to serious mind-body imbalances, with potentially long-term alarming health consequences.
The American Psychological Association's annual survey in 2012 revealed that the U.S was on the 'verge of a stress-related public health crisis,’ and Ireland is not far behind.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), recognises workplace stress as a global epidemic.
An ESRI report (2018) revealed that the level of job stress in Ireland has doubled in the last five years.
Job stress is becoming a more important issue in the Irish workplace as the economy becomes increasingly service based. Employers need to manage these risks to prevent the significant individual and organisational costs of stress-related illness”, said Dr Helen Russell, an author of the report.
What can be done?
The first part of the journey toward reducing stress is to understand what causes it.
Normal stress is a state during which physiological changes occur in order to enable the body to perform its functions for survival in the world.
Over short periods of time stress reactions can be productive; for instance, the bodily changes that take place before a competition or exam can release the necessary chemicals and hormones to propel us into motion and focus our minds.
If, however, this adrenaline rush is sustained over long periods, then the body is under a constant state of alarm, which will eventually cause a depletion of vital energy, and a person’s health will begin to deteriorate.
Many people have become so accustomed to high levels of stress that they are in a perpetual reactive state, poised to deal with life’s challenges; in other words, constantly ‘stressed out’!
Over time the body is put under extreme pressure and consequently signs of physical and emotional in-balance become apparent. Research is now suggesting that prolonged stress has a considerable impact upon the development of many illnesses, including: cardiovascular disease, cancer, endocrine and metabolic disease, skin disorders and infectious aliments of all kinds.
Stress may even produce the following physiological reactions:
Elevation of blood pressure.
Increased muscular tension.
A compromised immune system (predisposing the body to infection and disease) and nutritional deficiencies.
Stress has a major effect on psychological difficulties, such as depression and anxiety.
It can be responsible for (or exacerbate) a lot of back problems, fatigue, chronic headaches, irritability, memory loss, lowered sexual drive, and insomnia.
It is important to make time to re-address your relationship with the things in life that drain your energy and lead to stress.
There are many different ways of doing this, ranging from relaxation exercises to going for a walk in the woods.
Obviously, the preferred option is to remove the root cause of the problem; but if this is not possible, it is crucial that you implement some simple practises into your life to help counter the negative side effects of stress, and enable the body to restore balance.
People intuitively know that they need to take ‘time out’ to reduce stress. Unfortunately, we have marginalised these experiences to the once a year holiday – or if lucky a Sunday morning nap in bed. The problem is - this isn’t enough; especially, if you are experiencing daily work-life pressures or suffering with chronic anxiety, fear or tension.
Meditation and breathing exercises have become universally recognised as ways to calm and focus the mind and soothe the nervous system. If a few minutes of every day are dedicated to such activities it is possible to free up energy, be more creative, adventurous and happy.
Consciously allowing the mind and body to relax promotes good health and a better quality of life, and if practiced regularly can even help people face stressful situations more positively.
Mindfulness also improves our ability to digest food, assimilate nutrients and over time it can help reduce the hormone & blood sugar imbalances associated with weight gain.
It can also ‘unlock’ confidence, inspiration & a renewed sense of purpose.
How to practice being mindful?
OBSERVE YOUR SURROUNDINGS
FOCUS UPON THE BREATH
Other ways of countering the negative side effects of stress include: regular vigorous exercise, introducing a healthy diet, having some kind of body work / massage therapy and counselling.
Exploring more vitality-enhancing lifestyle options (including managing technology), and compassion for self & others (building positive relationships) can really help. Some ‘stressed out’ people find relief from simply making more time in their lives for quality time with family, partner or friends.
Above all else, laughter will dissipate stress and elevate mood surprisingly quickly!
That said, it is important to realise that managing stress can sometimes be quite complex, especially if it has built up over a long period of time, and become almost a default state of being. This kind of stress may need extra support and guidance from a qualified practitioner.
If you are finding that stress has begun to significantly affect your health, it may be important to see your health-care provider.
The second part of this two-part series on STRESS can be found via the button below: