Stress Management

We most often speak of stress negatively. Yet stress is really a normal response to a variety of physical, emotional or mental stimuli. The stress response (fight or flight) is really a protective response to a perceived threat or danger.

We all have an amazing ability to adapt to different stimuli. However our adaptability to these stressors is finite, and can be further limited by factors such as illness, poor diet and lack of sleep. If our adaptability is overloaded, additional stresses whether small or large can cause problems. These stress stimuli can come from just about anywhere: an argument with a friend, getting stuck in traffic, an unexpected change in plans. Applied often enough or over a continuous time period these stimuli can cause physical symptoms ranging from a pounding heart and sweaty palms to heart attacks, ulcers, and maybe even cancer. 

There are good stress stimuli that are characterized by being:

 

  • Short lived
  • Infrequent
  • Part of a positive life experience
  • Inspiring you to action
  • Making you better than you were before


Bad stress is known as:

 

  • Long lasting or chronic
  • Ongoing
  • Negative, depressing or demoralizing
  • Paralyzes you
  • Breaks you down; you're worse off than before


Everyone experiences stress differently, both in our perception and our response to it. Our tolerance to stress is based on:

 

  • Our attitude and outlook
  • Our life experiences
  • Genetic makeup
  • Perception of control
  • Natural personality type
  • Support network
  • Our stress "load"; the more stimuli we're dealing with the more we get worn down


Ideally we want to balance our good and bad stress so as not to be tipped too far to one side. Life demands, workload, exercise, nutrition and rest all factor into our ability to maintain that balance. We need to continually practice ways to manage these stimuli.

 

First: Develop and maintain a stress releasing activity. Choose an activity that requires you to focus on it and therefore reduce the time spent thinking about other stressors. Your activity could be exercise related like a sport or even a session in the garden. It could also be reading, knitting or a home improvement project. Regardless of the activity type, the result is less focus on the stress.

 

Second: You can’t always control events, but you can learn to control your reaction to them. The following four stress skills are easy to learn and as natural as breathing (which just happens to be one of the skills).

 

Perspective

Of all the things you worried about during the past year, how many came true? Chances are that most of your fears never come to pass. Many of us suffer needlessly by worrying about things that never happen. Putting things in perspective takes practice – and a little humour doesn’t hurt either.

Get in Touch

What’s your body trying to tell you about stress? Many of us don’t recognize warning signs when they occur.  

 

  • Physical Symptoms: Tight neck and shoulders, upset stomach, chest pain, headaches, flu like illness
  • Emotions: Depression, anger, irritability, negative thoughts 
  • Behaviour: Overeating, increase in smoking, change in sleeping habits, increased drinking


Exercise and Activity
You can literally walk away from stress- or swim, or bike, or whatever exercise type you choose.  Physical fitness helps fight stress in two ways:     

 

  • A physically fit body is better able to withstand the effects of stress. A well-balanced fitness program that includes good nutrition and adequate sleep gives you energy and endurance to handle whatever comes your way. 
  • Exercise itself has a calming effect. Sustained repetitive exercises like running and swimming can produce a mental state like that of meditation. Aerobic exercises release chemicals in the brain that have been shown to reduce depression and stress.  Stretching exercises and classes, or yoga can reduce muscle tension and also have a calming effect.  Regardless of   what exercise or activity style you choose, Just Move It.


Relax 
   
Do you know how to relax? It may sound like a silly question, but relaxation is a skill that you can learn and use when you need it. Stress tenses your body, makes your breathing shallow, raises your blood pressure and makes your heart pound. Relaxation skills can reverse some of the physical effects of stress to make you feel better, think better and perform better.  

 

  • Take a Deep Breath - No matter where you are or how busy you are, you have time for three deep breaths. Do it every few hours, or whenever you feel tension catching up with you. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose and slowly let it out through your mouth. 
  • Visualize - If you imagine yourself to be “stressed out” you will be. Sit in a quiet place, close your eyes and imagine you are sitting or lying down in a favourite or beautiful location.  After 10-15 minutes, take 3 deep breaths to “awake” feeling relaxed and refreshed.