What is stress?
Stress can be a positive force in our lives. Our body’s natural reaction to challenges helps us perform better whether in ‘fight or flight’. Short-term stressful situations are also good learning opportunities - providing experience with various coping strategies as well as building confidence and resilience. That might explain why older people are typically less stressed than young. There’s no upside with chronic stress though – that’s when we need effective strategies to deal with it.
Symptoms of stress
Stress affects us all in different ways but common physical symptoms include muscular tension, headaches, an upset stomach, insomnia and fatigue, shortness of breath, high blood pressure or palpitations. Emotionally, stress can manifest as mood swings including anger, irritability and bouts of tearfulness. More than a quarter (26%) of Australians report symptoms of anxiety or depression. Stress can also show up in forgetfulness, an inability to focus or poor judgement.
Causes of stress
Personal financial issues are the number one cause of stress in our lives. Family issues such as conflict and relationship breakdowns are the next major cause. While living with a partner and having children tend to increase our overall wellbeing, that can change when things aren’t going so well. We also stress about our personal health and the health of our loved ones, while increasingly, pressure to maintain a healthy lifestyle has become another source of stress!
10 stress busting techniques
To maintain our overall health and wellbeing, we all need to know how to deal with stress. Try these 10 stress busting techniques to improve your health and personal wellbeing.
- Identify and acknowledge the problem
- Make a plan
- Make time for regular exercise
- Try mindfulness training
- Yoga & meditation
- Laugh out loud
- Relax and unwind
- Maintain healthy habits
- Strengthen your informal support network
- Seek professional help
It can take some courage and soul searching to face up to the causes of our stress. It can be particularly uncomfortable analysing family dynamics, relationships, and yes, ourselves. If you’re completely overloaded with tasks and commitments for family and friends, where is the line between having your good nature taken advantage of and taking responsibility for your life by saying no to some of the requests? Chronic stress usually results from a combination of factors. Dive deep, start identifying them and prioritise them for action.
You’ll need a comprehensive plan for overcoming the problems that are causing your stress. For example, if job security is underlying your financial problems, can you up-skill or retrain to qualify for employment in another sector? What will that take? How long is the course? How can you find the extra time and money in the short-term to make a long-term, positive change? Regaining control of your life won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.
A swim at the beach, a walk around the ‘burbs, or a Sunday cycle - do yourself a favour with exercise or sport. Physical activity provides an outlet for accumulated tension and helps you relax. While you’re focused on your serve or swing, the mind is temporarily freed from other concerns. You’ll sleep better too. Exercise also boosts production of endorphins - those handy neurotransmitters that can deal with pain and lift your mood.
Mindfulness is the skill of living fully aware and in the moment. Through training and practice, you can develop this skill to observe yet disengage from your immediate thoughts, feelings and reactions to a situation. Mindfulness can be used to manage stress by encouraging more objectivity and clarity in choosing how to respond to challenging situations.
The trifecta of controlled breathing, body awareness and mediation provides focus and relaxation for the mind and body. It has been shown to reduce exam stress in students, post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans, depression and anxiety.
Laughter therapy and laughter yoga are being taken more seriously these days as evidence builds that they can reduce grief, loneliness, anger and stress. Laughter sessions are a shared experience and it might be this sense of connection that is the key to lifting mood and increasing satisfaction with life. Laughter also provides some respite from daily woes - an opportunity to regroup and refresh your perspective on life.
Distraction and diversion or just ‘me time’ - simple activities like reading a book, listening to music or playing with the dog - seem to be able to reset our mood and capacity to deal with the world.
It’s easy to adopt unhealthy lifestyle choices when we’re feeling stressed – however these only make the situation worse. Smoking, emotional eating, drugs and alcohol are clearly ineffective and come with well-known health risks. Instead, focus on keeping your body in the best possible shape by eating a balanced diet, not smoking and cutting back on alcohol.
Strong relationships with friends, family and colleagues can make a huge difference with stress relief - providing practical assistance, objective advice, personal insight, and a welcome sense of camaraderie. A problem shared is a problem halved.
Chronic stress may not be solved easily so consider enlisting professional support and expert advice if needed. Talk to a health professional in the first instance, especially if you’re experiencing symptoms. Other services available in the community include financial and relationship counseling. Find out if you can access this support through a confidential Employee Assistance Program at work.
There are a million good reasons for us to learn how to deal with stress – your mind and body will thank you for it.