Are you aware of your Stress?
We’re half way through National Stress Awareness Month so it’s a good time to reflect on your own stress levels and how to manage and prevent the effects of stress in every day life.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines stress as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances”. This definition makes a lot of sense when we think about the big events that we all know and recognise as causing stress: relationship breakdown; grief; a demanding boss; sitting exams etc. We know these to be “adverse” circumstances and almost expect to go through a period of adjustment.
Then there are the more subtle things that play out over a period of months or years, such as caring for a poorly child or elderly relative, long term financial worries or unrelenting pressures at work. On a day to day basis we may appear to our friends and family as ‘fine’ and ‘coping well’ but underneath the body is still reacting to these stresses and this can have significant effects on our health.
But there is also a third group and that is the large number of people who’s lives are so busy and full just coping with work, running a house, getting the children to several different places all at the same time as well as fitting in the shopping, cleaning and washing. On the surface life appears normal and nothing major is wrong, but the relentless nature of being pulled from pillar to post creates similar effects in the body as our more understood definitions of stress.
Interestingly, our body’s response to actual stress and to perceived stress is the same – a release of stress hormones and changes to our nervous system which give us increased heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate, changes in our metabolism and a diversion of blood supply away from our digestive and reproductive systems. In the short term these responses can be very helpful – think back in the the day when we had evolved to run away from predators out to eat us (actual real-life happening stress). But in the modern world many of these responses also come about from our worry that a particular even will happen (perceived future stress) and over a longer period of time, these continuing responses can have a detrimental effect on our health and wellbeing.
In short, we don’t have to be in the throes of a significantly traumatic event so be suffering from stress and we will all suffer from stress at various times of our lives. Sometimes it is intense but sometimes we are just overwhelmingly busy or worrying about future events (or anywhere inbetween) and then we too can suffer the same effects and symptoms which include: feelings of anxiety, poor sleep, loss of appetite, digestive disorders, tension headaches, palpitations as well as others.
So, how to manage all this?
Firstly, it’s important to recognise that we can be under stress even when life is relatively normal, and secondly, there are things we can do to help manage it and reduce the effects on our bodies longer term. Key among these is finding a way to let the stress out of the body:
- Exercise is great for this – it literally burns up the stress hormones
- Yoga, tai chi and meditation are all great at calming the body and allowing it to balance out naturally
- Seeking complementary therapy to allow yourself some down time and achieve a deep relaxation
Other things we can do to help avoid raising our stress levels in the first place include:
- Talking to somebody about our fears and worries, especially if those worries are future events that may never occur
- Eating a balanced diet including drinking plenty of fluid every day
- Ensuring we get enough good quality sleep
Life will always have its ups and downs but understanding the results this can have on our health and actively choosing to try and eliminate these effects can help us to a less stressful and healthier life.
If this blog resonates with you and you think that introducing complementary therapy in your life may be beneficial, then I would love to be able to help you on your path. Even if you just want to ask some questions or chat about whether you think I can help, then it would be great to hear from you.