Basics of Stress Management
The ability to manage stress includes knowing how to relax, communicate, and maintain perspective. Talking with friends, family or a counsellor are valuable relaxants.
Know yourself, keep the balance and perspective
Accepting who we are and being happy with ourselves is half the battle won. A great deal of stress arises through expectations, feeding the pent-up emotions of guilt, anxiety, fear, and anger. We are not perfect and cannot be everything to everyone. We cannot control others' reactions or dictate what they think of us. We should accept our limitations and live within our capabilities.
Stop and consider what makes you happy or makes you smile. When are you really having fun? Whether it is dancing, gardening, travelling, dining with friends, reading, looking at old photographs, walking - find the time to do it. The importance of enjoyment of life is one of the biggest lessons we will ever learn.
The relaxation relievers to combat stress are just as individual as its causes. Techniques vary from gentle yoga and meditation through to the exertions of dancing and playing squash.
Manage your time
This is a practical means to manage stress, and can be one of the most difficult to implement. Carried out successfully, it is the means to provide the leisure time required to enable achievement of balance in life.
The stresses of juggling career, family, and caring increase if you are unable to face up to your limitations. Accept that you cannot be everything to everyone and need to be your own person. Act positively by saying no to unrealistic demands and expectations through straightforward, assertive communication and use time at home to relax and be involved in hobbies far removed from everyday activities.
This is essential to ensure a good intake of nutrient rich foods, as physical and emotional stress consume energy and increase requirements. Nutrient demands increase during stress as muscles tense and nerves are activated. To compound the effect, people often turn to comfort foods or stimulants such as coffee, nicotine and alcohol which rob the body of essential nutrients, in particular the B vitamins and vitamin C.
Small amounts of high-quality protein, such as eggs, chicken, and cheese, assist with providing healthy nutrient dense meals. It is not recommended to eat a big meal in the middle of acute stress as digestion is compromised and will not be able to efficiently cope with the influx of food.
Regular exercise alleviates stress by distracting from the factors causing it and through its physiological function. It helps remove adrenaline from the blood and triggers the release of endorphins.
Talking and counselling
In addition to finding your own stress relievers and adopting a healthy lifestyle, there are recognised forms of treatment, the main one being counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy, which addresses its cause. The GP will treat its symptoms, whether through antibiotics for infections and viruses or anti-depressants for anxiety, but long-term treatment comes through addressing the cause.
Social support and communication
Nearly all studies show that support from family, friends or acquaintances reduce stress levels and their consequences. Maintaining contact and nurturing relationships reaps benefits, as does meeting new people and becoming part of a club or project with a common interest.
When trying to cope with the effects of tension, it is often these relationships that are neglected. This is where maintaining perspective and balance comes into play through knowing yourself. If you can recognise your signals that stress is taking over, you can then quickly call upon your stress relievers.
Counselling is an established form of support and treatment for these disorders. It empowers people to take control of their lives, enabling them to understand their situation and make choices.
On a simple level it is beneficial just to have someone listen, accept, and care, without interruptions or criticising. But counselling is so much more. At the end of sessions, the person will be able to take responsibility for themselves and their actions, a confidence-building experience which equips them to manage stress and act positively when required.
But why not just talk to family and friends?
They are a huge pool of support but there are times when they feel out of their depth, embarrassed, and unable to help. In addition, the social infrastructure has drastically changed, especially since the War years. We no longer have a close extended family of uncles, aunts, and cousins to draw on and we don't sit down for daily family meals, when issues would be openly discussed. As a result, people often find it easier to talk to someone who is not directly involved in their lives.
Be prepared to find out about who you are and face up to how you feel. You will need to explore emotions before you can understand them, enabling you to take action in your life as a result of your new perspective.
Cognitive behavioural therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy works to change negative attitudes into positive ones. Past events, especially in childhood, may have instilled negative feelings, which then encroach on other areas of life. The therapy requires the individual to keep a diary of recorded negative thoughts, and see how these impact on symptoms of stress and anxiety. They can then determine what the negativity produces. The aim is to recognise when it starts and convert it into positive thoughts. It enables people to view stressors differently and guides you to think and react differently to the sensations and situations that trigger anxiety.