Stress is a common affliction in the modern world. People have many sources of pressure in their lives and it can be difficult to juggle various stresses, such as having a family and a career while also managing one’s finances. Some people have additional pressures such as studying or caring for elderly parents. With so much to think about, it is little wonder that our stress levels are at an all-time high.
Symptoms of Stress
Stress affects different people in different ways and has a wide variety of physical and emotional symptoms. Common bodily signs of stress include headaches and muscle tension. You may feel this tension in your shoulders and neck or it may manifest itself as a sharp tension headache, often localized around the temples. Other typical symptoms of stress include sweating, palpitations, a dry mouth and breathlessness. Many sufferers of stress also report experiencing indigestion or bowel problems, sexual dysfunction or problems with their appetite; either overeating or losing interest in food completely. Stress is also a common cause of insomnia and disturbed sleep.
Stress can affect our emotional health and impact upon our behavior, causing us to feel lethargic, withdrawn and even depressed. It can also lead to feelings of anger and frustration, making sufferers prone to bad-tempered outbursts.
Some people describe their stress as resembling a feeling that they have a spring inside them which is being wound tighter and tighter. Of course, just as the laws of physics dictate that a real spring cannot be wound indefinitely, so a stressed person will eventually break down. Fortunately, there are a number of things that you can do to help manage and relieve your stress, loosening the grip of this spring and avoiding an emotional breakdown.
Excessive stress can take its toll on our bodies and can also have a negative impact on our mental health. Thankfully there are ways in which to manage stress in order to live a healthier, more balanced lifestyle.
Diet and Exercise
What you eat can play a significant role in your stress levels. A poor diet which is high in sugar and processed foods can exacerbate the symptoms of stress. Inversely, a nutritious diet, rich in fresh fruit, vegetables, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates, can help to keep stress at bay.
Caffeine is known to increase stress levels. For a healthy body and mind, you should avoid drinking more than 2-3 cups of coffee a day. People suffering from increased stress, tension and anxiety should try to their reduce caffeine intake. Many people find themselves turning to alcohol or cigarettes when they feel stressed. This is not a good long-term solution and is likely to increase your overall stress levels.
Maintaining good hydration is vital to physical and emotional well being and can help to diminish stress. Why not swap your usual morning coffee for calming, healthy herbal infusions such as chamomile or white tea? If you need a caffeine hit, try a cup of green tea. This is packed full of antioxidants and is a gentle and healthy way to wake you up, leaving you feeling cleansed and refreshed.
While some people feel depressed and withdrawn if they are suffering from stress, other people become anxious and frustrated and may have excess energy to burn off. Whatever your reaction to stress, taking some exercise can help, as can getting plenty of fresh air. If you’re feeling energetic, why not take a brisk walk or go for a gentle run in the park? Some people also find Pilates or yoga are good ways in which to unwind. Although it can be difficult to find the time, just a few hours of gentle exercise a week could be the key to reducing your stress levels.
Natural Ways to Deal with Stress
If you’re suffering from stress, or stress-related symptoms, it is important to reclaim your ‘me time’. Try to set aside some time every day to switch off and forget about work. You may wish to put on some relaxing music or listen to a guided meditation. You can find some excellent free meditations with relaxing music and videos of calming scenes online. Light a scented candle and devote your attention to the meditation. You might want to practice mindful breathing. This involves breathing deeply and focussing on your breath as it goes in and out. Again, you can find guides to mindful breathing and relaxation techniques online. You may have to try a few to find one that suits you, but it is worth persevering.
Some people find that relaxing essential oils such as lavender, frankincense and ylang-ylang help them to unwind. Essential oils can be dropped into a bath or used in a diffuser or oil burner to fill the room with a calming fragrance. Mixing essential oils with water creates a relaxing atmosphere and is a good linen spray for your bedroom and sheets. Some people also swear by natural remedies such as flower tinctures to help them cope in times of acute stress. Ask your pharmacist for advice on natural and medical remedies to help you deal with stressful situations.
Psychotherapeutic Techniques for Stress Management
Counsellors and psychotherapists frequently work with people struggling to manage their stress. If diet, exercise and personal relaxation techniques prove ineffective in managing your stress, you may want to consider therapeutic techniques.
If you’re interested in how psychology and counseling might help you manage your stress levels, your local library should be your first port of call. There are plenty of books on practices such as cognitive behavioral therapy, neuro-linguistic programming, mindfulness and other forms of self-help which can be effective in dealing with stress. In order to learn how to put these techniques into practice, or for more in-depth emotional support, you may wish to consider counseling or other types of therapy.
Is stress bad for you?
Stress isn’t always a negative thing. Low levels of stress can help to motivate us in everyday life and can even have physical health benefits. Stress becomes a problem when it spirals out of control and begins to cause unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms.
Can my doctor help me manage my stress?
Yes. Your GP can suggest ways in which to manage stress using natural relaxation techniques and can prescribe medication to help you cope with the mental and physical symptoms of stress. If you need to talk things over, your doctor will also be able to help you access counseling services. Don’t suffer in silence.