Time to Stress Down!

We are half way through the year, time is flying, there is so much to do, to see, and to think about, information is coming at us from everywhere, we can’t seem to tear ourselves away from our phones—sound familiar? No wonder we're stressed! Stress Down Day couldn’t have come at a better time.

What is stress?

Stress is a state of tension that occurs when there are too many demands in the environment or when we experience or anticipate experiencing a situation that is perceived as threatening, unpleasant, or unfamiliar. As well as having a physical effect on our body, stress can also affect our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

What triggers stress?

A wide variety of events or situations can trigger stress. These triggers can be both negative and positive in nature; for example, positive events like weddings, holidays, and promotions can trigger stress. Other examples of triggers are physical and mental health problems, relationship difficulties, being apart from family, deadlines for work, financial problems, being in crowds, public speaking, and simply too many things to do. There are also factors that make us more vulnerable to stress including poor eating and sleeping patterns, excessive drug use, lack of exercise, social isolation, physical illness, and lack of regular involvement in enjoyable and relaxing activities.

When does stress become a problem?

Contrary to popular belief, not all stress is bad. People need a certain amount of stress to feel motivated to achieve goals and to face challenges in life. Stress that is too intense, too frequent, and/or long-lasting is unhealthy. (Too little stress can also be unhealthy but most of us don’t suffer from that!) Prolonged stress can have a range of negative consequences both for your physical and your mental health as well as for your quality of life.

What happens when you get stressed?

Stress can trigger a variety of responses including physical reactions like tense muscles and headaches , emotions like frustration and resentment, thoughts like, “I can’t take this anymore,” or “No one understands,” and behaviours like not making time to eat, or snapping at others.

What can you do about it?

There are several things that you can do to reduce stress in your life, here are five ideas to get your started.

Address lifestyle factors

Life can be demanding, leaving us feeling wrecked and stressed but have you noticed that some days you handle it better than others? Resilience isn’t a static trait—it’s like a muscle that weakens or strengthens and you get to decide if you work it or not.  Don’t be defenceless when faced of stress, build resilience by addressing these five lifestyle factors everyday:

Chew on it: There is a connection between the quality and the quantity of food we eat and our energy levels, our mood, and our general health and well-being. Sometimes, it’s difficult to see the connection. A food diary can be a great tool to assess your current eating habits. Add a stress rating to the diary so you can see how your food intake is linked to your daily level of stress.

Get Physical: Well, we all know that exercise is important for physical health and well-being. Being active also improves mood, lowers anxiety levels, and reduces our vulnerability to stress. Get started by finding something you enjoy and can maintain: daily walks with a friend, Pilates, spin classes, cardio tennis, training for a fun run, sit-ups at home. And, yes, sex counts! While you are working out how to include daily physical activity in your life, try to incorporate incidental exercise by parking further away from your destination or going up stairs rather than lifts. Remember that any steps made toward a more active lifestyle are beneficial.

Sleep Deep: Quantity and quality of sleep are important factors to responding well to stress. People usually need between seven and nine hours. If you are getting this and are still feeling tired, the quality of your sleep may be the problem. Difficulty falling asleep, frequent waking, sleep apnea, and not enough hours in deep sleep may all be factors that leave you feeling fatigued during the day. If sleep is a problem area for you, you can use devices like Jawbone or FitBit to monitor and record your sleeping patterns (or record in a sleep diary), and then see a specialist about your concerns.

Chemical Reactions: The use or overuse of caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, over-the-counter medications and recreational substances can all affect your vulnerability and responses to stress. Conversely, not taking medications as prescribed can also have negative effects and make you more vulnerable to stressful conditions. If you’re chemically reacting, take steps to adjust your intake and seek support if needed.

Me-juvenate: Taking time for yourself is paramount to reducing your vulnerability to stress. Me-time is a mix of ‘alone’ time as well as time socialising with others. Choose activities that are fun, relaxing, comforting, entertaining or amusing. Whether alone or with others, making room for pleasant activities is necessary for optimal emotional health. You may find that you feel guilty or undeserving, just notice the feeling and then remind yourself that Me-time is on your “To-Do” list and get back to it! 

Be Realistic

Know what you can and can’t do. The demands of work, kids, school, social obligations, and finances can feel overwhelming at times. It’s important to set boundaries for yourself and limits on others based on what you are willing to do and what you can do given your current situation and state of mind. If you don’t know your limits, others won’t either so be honest with yourself. If you find that you have over-extended yourself, keep readjusting your limits as you go along.  

Lift Your Spirits

A good laugh can be a much needed reprieve from stress and can help us take life and ourselves less seriously. For a dose of laughter, watch your favourite comedy, check out some stand-up live or online, read anything by Oscar Wilde, or Tina Fey, or have a look at the latest cat antics on YouTube. 

Contribute

Research shows that kindness toward others benefits the recipient as well as the benefactor. So contributing to others’ happiness actually leads to a boost in your own sense of well-being, both physically and emotionally. So get out there and do something nice for someone else, it can be as simple as giving someone a compliment to volunteering for an organisation. See the following websites for ideas:

Time for a Check-Up

Regular check-ups with your GP are important to detect and address physical ailments early and to maintain physical well-being. It is especially important to consult with your GP if you experience persistent physical symptoms of stress to rule out any medical condition that may be contributing to or be the cause of these symptoms.

Contact Lifeline at any time for more information about how to get involved or for mental health support. 

Written by Clinical Psychologist Dr Lillian Nejad - Omnipsych