Understanding, Recognizing and Managing Stress

Stress! We have all felt it. Stress, when it’s managed in healthy ways it can be good for you as it is motivating you to perform well your job. But often it’s a negative force. Statistics based on American Psychological Association (APA) show that one-third of people experiencing extreme levels of stress. In these cases, stress can lead to serious emotional and physical consequences.

How stress is caused?

There are many definitions around stress. Most of them suggest that stress originates from outside the individual, because of some situations in the individual’s environment (i.e. a situation where demands exceed abilities) or a major life event (e.g. death, divorce). Stress could even originated from the occurrence of chronic minor life events (e.g. daily busy schedule). On the other hand, stress could be originated from within the individual; when the person has a tendency to worry with situations or events which have yet to occur, or which may never at all occur, or even ‘’imagine’’ sources of stress such as suspicious concerns. Taking the above into consideration, it would be unorthodox to assume that stress is the same for all and ignore the individual differences. In other words, what is stressful for one person may or may not be stressful for another.

Consequences of stress

Stress can interfere with your feelings, your behavior, thinking and physical health. Some of the signs and symptoms of stress in these areas are outlined below:

A. Feelings • E.g. Anxiety, depression, irritability

B. Behavior • E.g. Aggressiveness, tearfulness, lack of motivation

C. Thinking • E.g. Difficulties of concentration and problem solving

D. Physical symptoms • Palpitations, nausea, headaches, muscle pains, stomach pains, fatigue. If stress persists, there are changes in neuroendocrine, cardiovascular, autonomic and immunological functioning, leading to mental and physical ill health (for example heart disease).

With the consequences of poorly managed stress ranging from fatigue to heart disease, it is important to know how to recognize high stress levels and take action to handle them in healthy ways. Being able to control stress is a learned behavior, and stress can be effectively managed by taking small steps toward changing unhealthy behaviors.

How to handle it?

– Understand your stress.

Everyone experiences stress differently. For this reason, priority is to understand your stress. You can understand your stress by simply asking the following questions:• How do you know when you are stressed? • How are your thoughts or behaviors different from times when you do not feel stressed?• What events or situations trigger stressful feelings? Are they related to your children, family, health, financial decisions, work, relationships or something else?Keep notes for a week or two to answer these questions. Record your thoughts, feelings and information about the environment, including the people and circumstances involved, the physical setting and how you reacted. Did you raise your voice? Did you smoke? Did you go for a walk? Did you feel angry, irritable or out of control? Taking notes can help you find patterns among your stressors and your reactions to them.

– Recognize how you deal with stress.

Determine if you are using unhealthy behaviors (such as smoking, drinking alcohol and over/under eating) to cope with stress. Do you make unhealthy choices as a result of feeling stressed? If the answer is yes, then replace them with healthy ways to manage your stress. Consider healthy, stress-reducing activities such as exercising, eating right, getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water. Keep in mind that unhealthy behaviors develop over time and can be difficult to change. So, don’t take on too much at once. Focus on changing only one behavior at a time.

– Take care of yourself.

Ensure you do not only have a healthy body, but that you also have a healthy mind though activities like yoga, art, theatre, poetry, reading a good book, go out with friends, travelling or listening to your favorite music. No matter how busy life gets, make time for yourself — even if it’s just simple things!

– Learn how to relax.

Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises and mindfulness (a state in which you actively observe present experiences and thoughts without judging them) can help to reduce stress. Start by taking a few minutes each day to focus on a simple activity like breathing, walking or enjoying a meal. The skill of being able to focus purposefully on a single activity without distraction will get stronger with practice and you’ll find that you can apply it to many different aspects of your life.- Reach out for support…. Accepting help from friends, family and/or colleagues can improve your ability to manage stress. If you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress, you may want to talk to a psychologist, who can help you better manage stress and change unhealthy behaviors.Always remember that response to stress is something that we can choose!

Choose wisely!

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