There’s a humorous meme that says, “If stress burned calories, we’d all be supermodels”. So true; we live in a world that leaves so many of us overwhelmed by stress; ranging from politics, crime, pollution and climate change to family dynamics, relationship and work pressure.
Stress is an unavoidable fact of life. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing because it’s designed to increase our awareness of difficult or dangerous situations. Stress is a natural physical response to a psychological emotion. It’s what triggers our fight-or-flight response which is critical to the survival of the human race.
However, when stress becomes unbearable, it can be hugely detrimental to your health. If you’re suffering from chronic stress – otherwise known as acute stress response – you need to speak to your doctor or a psychologist for help. What you need is a stress management plan that provides tips and techniques to prevent and relieve stress.
What is stress?
Stress is an emotion; a type of psychological tension and pain. Small amounts of stress are actually beneficial because it helps us identify and react to what our body or mind perceives as dangerous or difficult situations. However, prolonged or chronic stress can be very harmful to your mind, body and soul.
The science of stress
Your sympathetic nervous system is activated by a sudden release of hormones when your body perceives a dangerous or difficult situation. The nervous system then stimulates the adrenal glands which release catecholamines. These include adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol which produce physical changes that will help you cope with the threat or danger.
Another term for this is the fight-or-flight response. A typical example of a fight-or-flight scenario is confronting a snarling dog on the walkway; do you stay rooted on the spot and brace yourself to fight it off or do you run like the wind?
When the danger or difficult situation passes, your body rebalances the stress hormones in your nervous system and you’ll start to feel calm again. However; when we experience acute stress too often or for a long period, problems start to arise. Basically, the continuous activation of stress hormones by your nervous system causes ‘wear and tear’ from your head to your toes.
What is a stress management plan?
You can really benefit from a stress management plan if you’re suffering from acute stress and executive burnout. The plan works best if it’s realistic and action-based. In other words, it should include actions you’re likely to take because they are relevant to you and you’d be okay with doing them.
Examples of realistic actions in a stress management plan:
When my boss makes negative comments about my performance, it makes be very angry and defensive.
I will set up a meeting to talk to my boss about areas he perceives as my weaknesses and what I could do better to meet his expectations.
I work so hard and such long hours but I still can’t pay my bills and cover all our expenses at home.
I will share my concerns with my wife and we can work on a budget to cut back on costs and save money where possible.
When I see how much weight I’m carrying and how horrible I look in clothes, it makes me very anxious and depressed.
I will start slowly by following a manageable diet and joining a friend for regular walks in the park.
Thinking about climate change and how much danger Earth is in makes me feel sad and anxious.
I can’t save the world but I can do my part to reduce my carbon emissions by downgrading my big gas-guzzling car to a fuel-efficient one.
The 4 A’s: Stress management techniques you can practice
Living with acute stress is like walking around with a backpack filled with heavy rocks. It weighs you down and prevents you from living the carefree, content life you deserve. Practice these stress management techniques on a daily basis to balance out your stress equation.
Extracted from: Need stress relief? Try the 4 A’s ǀ Mayo Clinic
Take control of your surroundings
Is the traffic insane? Leave early for work or take the longer, less traveled route. Waste time and money buying food from the cafeteria at work? Pack your own lunch and eat it at a quiet spot away from your desk.
Avoid people who bother you
Your colleague makes you tense and regularly upsets you, limit the amount of time you spend with the person by only communicating via email or WhatsApp. Your friend belittles you in front of other friends, take a break from seeing him or her.
Learn to say no
Sit on your hands in meetings and let other people take on more responsibilities. Say no to organising the school PTA functions, it’s time for someone else to do it. Cancel a face-to-face meeting that you have to drive across town for and rather have a quick Zoom call.
Ditch things off your to-do list that aren’t urgent
Create an A, B and C to-do list. If life is hectic, park your C list for some time in the future.
Respectfully ask others to change their behaviour
And be willing to do the same. Small problems often create larger ones if they aren’t resolved. If you’re tired of being the butt of a friend’s jokes at parties, ask him or her to leave you out of the comedy routine. In return, be willing to relax and enjoy his or her humour about other things.
Communicate your feelings openly
Remember to use “I” statements. For example, “I feel frustrated by shorter deadlines and a heavier workload. Is there something we can do to balance things out?”
Manage your time better
Lump together similar tasks; group your phone calls, car errands and computer-related tasks. The reward of increased efficiency will be extra time.
Set limits in advance
Instead of stewing over a colleague’s nonstop chatter, politely start the conversation with, “I’ve got only five minutes to cover this.” If a friend pops in unannounced, say “I’m happy to see you but I must carry on with work in half an hour”.
Speak to someone and ask for help
Regardless of whether you have small or big problems that are stressing you out, your feelings are still legitimate. Phone or schedule a coffee break with an understanding friend, colleague or therapist. You may feel better after talking it out.
It takes energy to be angry all the time. Forgiving takes practice but by doing so, you will free yourself from burning through such negative energy. Why stew in your anger when you could shrug it off and move on? Learn not to judge people or situations too easily.
Practice positive self-talk
Negative automatic thoughts are usually unconscious moments. One negative thought can lead to another, and soon you’ve created a mental avalanche. Learn to identify your cognitive biases and practice positive self-talk.
Instead of thinking, “I’m terrible with money and I’ll never be get out of this financial mess,” rather say, “I made a mistake with my money but I’m resilient. I can do better and I’ll get through it.”
Learn from your mistakes
There is enormous value in recognising a “teachable moment.” You can’t change the fact that procrastination hurt your performance, but you can make sure you plan better and set aside more time for tasks in the future.
Adjust your standards
Do you need to vacuum and dust twice a week? Would macaroni and cheese be an unthinkable substitute for homemade lasagna? Redefine success and stop striving for perfection, and start to live your life with less guilt and stress.
Stop gloomy thoughts in their tracks. Don’t chew on negative thoughts and replay stressful situation over and over in your head. Once you’ve addressed something, park it and move on.
Reframe the issue
Try looking at your situation from a “glass half full” viewpoint. Instead of feeling frustrated that you’re home with a sick child, look at it as an opportunity to bond, relax and finish a load of laundry.
Adopt a mantra
Create a saying such as, “I’m not perfect but I’m good,” and mentally repeat at times when you feel overwhelmed and stressed.
Do an audit of your best assets
Write down all of the things that you are good at or bring you joy in life. Even something small like you’re nice to old people. Then, when you’re feeling stressed and anxious, read over your list to remind yourself that you are worthy and remind yourself of what brings you joy.
Look at the big picture
Ask yourself, “Will this matter in a year or in five years?” The answer is often no. Realising this makes a stressful situation seem less overwhelming.
Top 10 tips to manage and reduce stress in your life
It doesn’t have to be a hectic gym session or a 5-km run. Choose something physical to do that you enjoy. It could be walking, swimming, hiking, yoga or dancing in front of your mirror in your bedroom.
It’s best to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of both. The guidelines suggest that you spread this exercise out over the course of a week.
Relax your muscles
When you’re stressed, your muscles get tense and bunch up. This can cause tension headaches, migraines and neckache. Include some stretching exercises in your weekly exercise plan or simply do it while at work, making dinner or walking in the park. A hot bath with soothing herbal salts is also a great way to ease muscle tension. Treat yourself to an all-over body massage or neck massage every now and then.
Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. This is because when you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to cells in your body.
Watch a video on deep breathing exercises and practice what you learn when you’re at home or work. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much better you feel if you make deep breathing a habit.
Eat healthy, nutritious meals
Don’t underestimate the mantra, “you are what you eat”. If your body could talk what would it say about you?
We have about 100 trillion cells in our bodies and each one demands a constant supply of daily nutrients in order to function optimally. Food affects every aspect of your being: from your mood and energy levels to sleeping habits and brain power.
Step into the slow lane
When life gets too busy and you’re overwhelmed, move into the slow lane. Literally, if you’re driving to work in hectic traffic, leave earlier and enjoy a leisurely drive in the slow lane.
Look at your life and find ways to slow the pace of things. Plan ahead so you’re not rushing, break big tasks into small one and ask for help and treat yourself to a more relaxed pace of life.
Take a spiritual break
Most of us fall into the trap of booking a holiday when we’re really stressed at work. How many times do you come back from a holiday more stressed or aggravated? Rather, take a break from the mental rollercoaster you’re on and give yourself some time to revisit your spiritual side.
Choose what suits you; meditation, yoga, tai chi, prayer, nature, listening to calming music, reading a romantic novel or watching a feel-good movie.
Pick up a hobby
Remember how you used to love tinkering in the garage or spending time in your garden? Have you always wanted to learn how to play a guitar or complete a 1 000-piece puzzle. Do it! Make time for yourself to do something you enjoy, even if it’s for a stolen half-hour a day.
Speak to someone
If you feel you can’t burden your family or friends with your troubles, find someone else to speak to that you can trust. It could be your church minister, your doctor or a therapist. There are a number of stress management techniques that you can learn from the experts to help you manage and reduce stress in your life.
Cut yourself some slack
One of the A’s you should focus on in your stress management plan is Accept. So, you didn’t get the promotion you wanted, you’ll get it next time. So, your house is not spotlessly clean this week, your kid was sick.
Remember, you can’t control everything in your life, so only worry about what you can control.
Identify your triggers
What causes stress in your life? What triggers you to feel angry, anxious or tense? If you know what causes your stress levels to rise, adopt a stress management plan which will help you reduce or eliminate it.
If you don’t know what causes you to stress so much, keep a journal. Make notes of when you become stressed and anxious and try to find a pattern in your behaviour. Then find ways to remove or lesson those issues.
How can White River Manor help you?
White River Manor is a leading centre in South Africa, specialising in the treatment of alcohol and drug addiction. We also treat clients suffering from acute stress disorder and executive burnout. Our multi-disciplinary team will help you create an actionable and realistic stress management plan as part of a holistic treatment plan. Identifying issues that cause chronic stress in your life and practicing stress management techniques will help you lead a healthier, happier life.