Stress Management Without Harmful Addictions
Stress impacts us all to differing degrees. It’s the “wear and tear” our bodies experience as we adjust to our continually changing environment.
These days, life can be so fast-paced with a seemingly never-ending list of things to do and a barrage of information that many of us feel overwhelmed and like our lives are spinning out of control.
When this happens, you need to have some tools to safely manage stress as opposed to turning to 'magic pills' like medications, drugs or alcohol as outlets to make your worries disappear.
Stress can have both physical and emotional effects on us, but a certain amount of stress is actually healthy because it teaches us to 'problem solve' and pushes us forward.
Let's briefly look at the two main types of stress and what you can do to manage stress without resorting to harmful substances that can lead to dependency and addictions.
Firstly, there are two types of stress:
As a positive influence, stress can help compel us to action. It can result in a new awareness and an exciting new perspective. We all thrive under a certain amount of stress as positive stress adds anticipation and excitement to life. Deadlines, competitions, confrontations and even our frustrations and sorrows add depth and certain enrichment to our lives.
As a negative influence, stress can create feelings of distrust, rejection, anger and depression, which in turn can lead to health problems such as headaches, upset stomach, rashes, insomnia, ulcers, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
The funny thing is that insufficient stress can almost be a depressant because it can leave us feeling bored or dejected. And on the other end of the scale, excessive stress may leave us feeling like we're unable to cope and "tied up in knots".
How do I get rid of stress?
There are a number of simple things you can do to manage harmful stress without resorting to drugs or other addictive means. Thing like getting out of the environment that is contributing to the problem, changing your mood with exercise, food, getting out into the sunshine, swimming in the ocean, going for a hike out in nature, or by going to see someone who you can have a laugh with and put things into perspective.
But the ultimate goal is not to eliminate stress but to learn how to manage it and how to use it to help you.
It's about having having an optimal level of stress which will individually motivate, but not overwhelm you. It can be a fine line.
How can I tell what is optimal stress for me?
We all are individual creatures with unique requirements. What is distressing to one may be a joy to another and as a result, we are likely to differ in our physiological and psychological responses to it.
Our personal stress requirements and the amount which we can tolerate before we become distressed changes with our ages.
Unrelieved stress has been found to be related to most illness. If you are experiencing stress symptoms, you have gone beyond your optimal stress level; you need to reduce the stress in your life and/or improve your ability to manage it.
How can I manage stress better?
Even when you identify unrelieved stress and become aware of its effect on your life, this is not sufficient for reducing its harmful effects. Just as there are many sources of stress, there are also many ways to manage it, including changing the source of stress and/or changing your reaction to it.
Become aware of your stressors and your emotional and physical reactions
- Notice your distress. Don’t ignore it but figure out if it's real or a made up story
- Determine what events distress you. What are you telling yourself about the meaning of these events?
- Determine how your body responds to the stress. Do you become nervous or physically upset? If so, in what specific ways?
Recognise what you can change
- Can you change your stressors by avoiding or eliminating them completely?
- Can you reduce their intensity or manage them over a period of time instead of on a daily or weekly basis?
- Can you shorten your exposure to stress take a break or leave the physical premises?
- Can you devote the time and energy necessary to making a change? Things such as goal setting, time management techniques, and delayed gratification strategies may be helpful here.
Reduce the intensity of your emotional reactions to stress
- The stress reaction is triggered by your perception of danger; including physical danger and/or emotional danger. Are you viewing your stressors in exaggerated terms and/or taking a difficult situation and making it a disaster?
- Are you expecting to please everyone?
- Are you overreacting and viewing things as absolutely critical and urgent?
- Do you feel you must always prevail in every situation?
- Work at adopting more moderate views. Try to see the stress as something you can cope with rather than something that overpowers you.
- Try to temper your excess emotions. Put the situation in perspective. Do not labour on the negative aspects and the “what if’s.”
Learn to moderate your physical reactions to stress
- Slow, deep breathing will bring your heart rate and respiration back to normal.
- Relaxation techniques can reduce muscle tension. You can gain voluntary control over such things as muscle tension, heart rate, and blood pressure.
- Learning to moderate these reactions on your own is a preferable long-term solution.
Build your physical reserves
- Exercise for cardiovascular fitness three to four times a week. Moderate, prolonged rhythmic exercise is best, such as walking, swimming, cycling or jogging.
- Eat well balanced, nutritious meals.
- Maintain your ideal weight.
- Avoid nicotine.
- Mix leisure with work. Take breaks and get away when you can.
- Get enough sleep. Be as consistent with your sleep schedule as possible.
Maintain your emotional reserves
- Develop some mutually supportive friendships/relationships.
- Pursue realistic goals which are meaningful to you, rather than goals others have for you that you do not share.
- Expect some frustrations, failures and sorrows.
- Always be kind and gentle with yourself – be a friend to yourself.
I also wrote an entire section in my Farmacist Desk Reference books called "Feeding Your Emotions" where I share the role also that foods play in managing stress and creating harmony and emotional balance in our lives. Take the time to read it too when you can.