As we prepare for Stress Awareness month throughout the month of April, we have put together our guide to identifying and combating stress.
The signs of stress
Sometimes stress is not always obvious. Oftentimes when we think we are coping with challenging or difficult times and worries, our stress manifests in ways we don’t always necessarily recognise as stress at first.
The symptoms of stress might be physical or mental and include body aches, irritable bowel syndrome, issues with sleeping, and a loss of appetite, or desire to eat more. If you find yourself getting ill more often than usual, or find yourself struggling to cope with your emotions and reactions towards others, stress may be to blame.
The impact of stress
Stress can have a significant and long lasting impact on our physical and mental health, if it isn’t addressed and dealt with.
Long term stress can wreak havoc on the body’s immune system and lead to health issues such as high blood pressure, heart diseases, as well as constant tiredness. Emotional side effects of stress include depression and anxiety, both of which are mental health issues in their own right. Stress can also take a toil on personal and professional relationships.
Stress can cause other extreme problems in one's physical, psychological and social health. It can cause relationship problems too, as one may be quick to anger and overact on trivial issues. Stress can also lead to high blood pressure and other serious health conditions.
Ways to combat stress
Learn to know your stress. Understand the triggers, external and internal, that contribute to stress for you. This might include over optimistic work deadlines, or too many overtime hours, or even a family event or relationship that is triggering your stress. Where you can, pre-empt the events and relationships causing the stress. Where this is not possible, be able to identify when you are stressed, and how you can tackle reducing it and minimising its impact on your health and life.
Develop stress fighting tactics. Understand what works best for you, in terms of combating stress. Try to build health self care activities that can help. Avoid alcohol, for example, and instead opt for exercise, or a massage, or something as simple as dinner with friends. For many people incorporating mindfulness exercises into their daily routines helps too.
Own your own emotional health. Understand what you can control, and what can be let go. Don’t waste stress on things, events, and people you are incapable of controlling, for whatever reason. Focus on what you can change, improve, and more forward in a positive way. Let go of the things you can not change, or delegate them to someone else.
Be kind to yourself. Building resilience and learning how to handle stress are lifelong challenges. Be aware of how you respond to stressful situations, and focus on how you can work on improving this response. But remember this takes time.
Talk to someone. This could be a friend, trusted family member, or even a professional such as a counselor or therapist. Sometimes just one meeting or talk is enough to help you dissipate any stress you may be feeling. Sometimes it might take a longer commitment. Sharing helps.
Exercise. Physical activity is considered to be one of the most effective stress busters. From yoga to running, to something more intense like cross fit or endurance training, exercise is a great way to manage stress, especially in the long term.
Stress is an inevitable part of life, and in some instances stress can be good. It drives us to do better, and to push ourselves through challenging situations. But too much stress, over too long a period, can have a detrimental impact on our lives and health. Then, combating stress becomes about more than protecting our wellbeing, and more about protecting our long term health.
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