Stress shortens lives - Six secrets to managing it
The Western world today is a place of complexity and fast-moving technology. Change is happening around us all of the time – it’s like being in the midst of a busy stream – and the pace of change isn’t likely to slow down. The internet has transformed our lives in some positive ways e.g. if you don’t know the answer to anything you simple ‘google it’. But it’s also brought with it the constant potential for overload of news and information. On top of that, there’s the impact of mobile phones and social media, which means we seldom stop communicating with each other. We are constantly expected to be available – anywhere and almost any time. If this wasn’t stressful enough, there’s the pressure in today’s workplace, with trends such as flatter management structures bringing limited opportunities for progression, challenging performance targets and performance-related pay, restricted training budgets, constant restructuring and redundancy threats and, generally, a lower level job satisfaction.
This is all taking place in a society with fragmented social structures, fewer people than ever before connect over a common religion or faith, relationship breakups lead to a larger proportion of children being brought up by single parents in complex family constellations and a truly multicultural society where peer and exam pressures are never-ending. Plus we have an ageing population and a creaking NHS service means caring is undertaken by millions in the UK – it is hugely undervalued and much goes on unrecognised.
Within all this we have to recognise our limits for a quality of existence to permeate our lives. After all, what is the point of striving so hard (to fit in, to ‘make the grade’, to acquire more money, find the ‘perfect’ partner, etc.) if you might not even see tomorrow? Life, after all is fragile and very precious. And, it is a well-known fact that stress is the root cause of the majority of health problems. It can lead to accidents, poor or regrettable decisions due to confused judgements, disturbed sleep and eating patterns, addictive behaviours, out-of-character emotional responses and mood swings, reduction in self-confidence, and erratic energy levels leading to over-reliance on stimulants (such as sugary foods, caffeine, tobacco, alcohol and drugs). Little wonder it can affect our daily activities, personal performance and relationships too.
Stress actually occurs to help us overcome a challenge – it’s a normal response to something we perceive as a threat e.g. a job interview, an exam, a sporting event – and physiological changes take place to prepare us to meet the challenge. However, if this is not a short-lived ‘threat’ and the stress chemicals in our bodies do not discharge then they can interrupt the natural workings of the body including suppressing our immune system. Stress can play a large part in cardiovascular disease, strokes and other health challenges. When you are stressed, those around you suffer too whether you intend this or not. They may receive your sharp reply to a reasonable request or, worse still, be on the end of an unpredictable emotional outburst. At home, you might feel like kicking the cat or end up shouting at your kids or partner. Ultimately, without positive action, you may be storing up trouble for yourself and you may be contributing to someone else’s stress.
So, it makes sense for many reasons to look at your own stress levels from time-to-time and take a proactive approach to reducing them when necessary. Self-awareness and self-care are essential in your tool kit for well-being, talking to a trained listener can help you get to the bottom of your distress. But in any event, there are some simple things you can do for yourself today.
Six secrets to managing your daily stress levels successfully:
- Breathe – notice your breath, especially when feeling stressed, busy or multi-tasking; it’s likely to be shallow; take a few deep calming breaths; your brain needs twice as much oxygen as any other organ and it’s the first to suffer without it; working at a computer is a classic time when we are so engrossed in what we are doing we fail to breathe properly.
- Drink water – dehydration effects your mental faculties too; if you feel thirsty then apparently your body is already dehydrated; drink water throughout your day to counteract the effects of too much tea or coffee and dry atmospheres (such as office air-conditioning or recycling units); water helps flush toxins out of your body and lubricates your joints.
- Graze – eat appropriately throughout the day; working after a large or heavy meal will challenge your mental resources, whilst working without enough fuel e.g. through a sugar low, will also stress your body; pace yourself and make sure you graze on healthy (low sugar) snacks; tune in to what your body really benefits from and stick to it.
- Shake and stretch – shake tension out of your limbs and shoulders; move about and change position often to prevent stiffness and joint pain; walk (outside, if possible) or to the toiled and do something physical to stretch; take a tip from cats who always stretch after a sleep – try this in the morning to wake up your body and stretch out the ‘kinks’ before sleep.
- Take breaks – everyone needs breaks, taking them is a preventative strategy – make sure you take all the break’s you’re entitled to at work (health legislation is there for a reason); whether you do something different mentally or physically, when you return to your work you will feel the benefit; you are worth it… your health is worth it.
- Off load – we all need to off load sometimes, talking to family, friends or colleagues can be helpful, there’s no shame in it; make sure you ask them just listen rather than offer any advice or try to ‘fix you’; if there’s something major worrying you, better still enlist the help of an independent professional – someone trained to listen and help you.