What to do about stress
Contrary to popular belief - stress in itself is not a mental health problem. We all need a certain level of stress in our lives to help us function. Without any pressure or a slight feeling of anxiety, it's hard to learn a new skill or be open to change or personal/professional development. In fact, people who have too little to do may become introspective and complain of low mood or feeling depressed. What needs to concern us is too much ongoing, long-term stressors or chronic stress in our lives.
We can get used to it and even seem to thrive on stress, so that working too hard or having lots of personal dramas can become quite addictive in the short-term. For a period of time this can be manageable, but the long-term side effects of chronic persistent stress are not healthy.
The impact of too much adrenaline and cortisone (the powerful hormones fired up by flight or fight reactions) can lead to physical, as well as emotional health problems. We have to find ways to combat this, and sometimes we do this by an over-dependence on other substances, such as alcohol, caffeine or drugs.
Physical health problems resulting from chronic stress might include: gastro digestive problems, weight gain or loss, headaches, insomnia, back pain, high blood pressure and heart and stroke disorders. Emotional problems might include irritability, addictions. anxiety and depression, which may lead to family and relationship problems.
So what can we do about stress?
Step 1: You need to recognise that you are stressed. What symptoms do you have? Next, sit down and think, what is causing your stress? Are you in the 'wrong' job or the 'wrong' relationship?
Step 2: What choices do you have? Explore what you could do to help yourself and who can help you with this? Once you have made a decision to do something differently, it's amazing who is out there and who can help you!
Step 3: Who else can help? Seeing your GP is free, where you can discuss various medical options. They may suggest you taking time off work, or they might refer you to free NHS services for counselling or further support. You can also search online for charities or councils that offer free support with various issues, like coping with addictions or with personal well-being.
Step 4: If you're able, you might consider buying in some private counselling or coaching to help support you, and guide you through a process of change and self-development either personally or in your career.
What else helps?
All of the following are known to help reduce stress and help your body produce more healthy and calming natural substances. Some people enjoy exercise, music, hobbies, pets, talking to friends, dancing - even walking outside in the fresh air in a park, or by the sea as much as you can is helpful. Walking or running is therapeutic, rhythmic and can take us out (literally) from the environment where we feel stressed.
You need to choose to do something you like doing and do it regularly for it to make a difference. Holidays and breaks away can help too - but only if you really get away. Don't take the laptop, the phone or the person causing you the stress with you! Even small practical changes, like better time management can help, where you allow or find yourself some space and time to do something you like, for you and you alone.
Mindfulness, relaxation and meditation (or being as well as doing!)
All of the above originate from ancient practices and beliefs and can benefit you with learning to calm down and recognise the importance of living in the present.
Various martial arts (such as Tai Chi) and yoga classes can be beneficial as they incorporate meditative activities and may help you calm down and re-assess what is happening in your hectic life!
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