“This wuk is bare stress.”
“I fed up with all dis stress in meh life.”
Sound familiar? Many of us can relate to those expressions because we would have likely used one or all of them at some point in our lives.
Let us first examine what stress is—it is our body’s way of dealing with a particular ‘stressful’ situation. Psychologically, stress can make us feel anxious, angry, confused or frustrated. The physical aspect of stress could manifest in us having decreased energy levels, poor appetite, insomnia, a low sex drive or chronic pain. Here, the importance of the mind-body connection cannot be overlooked. This means that physical symptoms can lead to psychological ones and vice versa. For example: a person recently diagnosed with cancer can become depressed (body-mind) or a person suffering from depression can develop poor eating habits (mind-body).
We should, however, not look at stress as always being a bad thing. In fact, that extra adrenaline needed in order to fulfill that demand makes some of us work better. Many people have noted that they work better under pressure. When we become stressed, the body is telling us that we have two options: “to fight” or to “flee.” Say, for instance, you are walking on the street and out of nowhere comes a lion. You could either run as fast as you can in the opposite direction or you could brave it out and try to scare it off. At this moment, your heart rate is accelerated, your palms are sweaty and your breathing has increased tenfold… this is the adrenaline that your body has produced to allow you to respond to this threatening situation. But because we are all designed differently, our reactions will be different. There will be those of us who will run towards the lion and those of us who will run in the opposite direction.
In real life, though, unless we are a safari guide in an Asian or African country, the chances of us running into a lion are slim. But the point is that when confronted with a stressful situation, whether it’s relationship or work-related, we have a choice as to how we react to that situation.
So now that we have identified what stress is, let us take a more in-depth look at what some of the triggers are:
Work has universally been identified as one of the biggest stressors for people. It ranges from them feeling as though they are constantly overburdened to them feeling like they can no longer do the job. Other major and common stressors can be the loss of loved ones, separation or divorce, changing schools or jobs or moving homes. These examples can be classified as ‘external’ stress or that which you and others can ‘see.’
‘Internal’ stress, on the other hand, deals with our attitudes, feelings, perceptions and beliefs; that is, how we psychologically respond to work overload, the loss of a loved one, separation/divorce etc. Broadly speaking, there are two types of people; there are those who will “worry themselves sick” and those who will be “unfazed” by life’s stresses. Falling into one of these categories isn’t ideal and we should try to strike a balance as best as we can.
Now that you have a better idea of what stress is and how to identify what your particular stressors are, these are some of the things you can do to keep cool and maintain your peace of mind:
*Take a moment to breathe: No matter the situation, when you feel the stress mounting up, take a minute or two to do a deep breathing exercise. The purpose of this exercise is to relax both your mind and body and to delay the onset of anxiety and an impending panic attack. You can start by breathing in through your nose and exhaling slowly through your mouth. Count to 10 and repeat this technique until you feel calm and that you have the situation under control.
*Eat and sleep well: Eating and sleeping well are vital to both our physical and mental health. Ideally, we should eat regularly and healthily and get at least six to eight hours of sleep per day. You can also allow yourself to have cheat days where you indulge in a favourite meal that might not be so healthy. Also, a glass of wine or beer has been proven to increase happiness and decrease stress levels, so don’t feel badly about having a drink or two after work from time to time. Just remember not to overdo it.
*Exercise: Exercise is important. Whether you’re a gym junkie or you are the type to take a daily stroll in the park, your body will thank you for it. Doing some form of physical activity at least three times a week does wonders for the mind and body.
*Plan your next vacation: Since work is such a big stress or for most people, planning and saving for a nice trip with your friends and/or family means that there is something to look forward to after all those gruelling hours at work. You don’t have to be a millionaire to travel and you don’t have to necessarily catch a plane. Whatever your dream destination is (once it’s within your budget), plan and fantasise until the day arrives when you have your bag packed and it’s hello to whatever brings you peace and tranquility.
*Don’t sweat the small stuff: Remind yourself that stress isn’t always a bad thing and it can propel us to do things which we think we can’t, like meeting a deadline for work or getting to the store before the sale ends. Focus on the things over which you have control; anything outside of that is out of your hands. For instance, you have no control over the mood of your boss, but you do have control over how you react to him if he is in a bad mood. And if you miss that sale, relax…the world hasn’t ended, there will always be another one.
*Do something you enjoy: Take time for yourself, relax… go to the beach…walk on the sand, read a book…lay in a hammock…whatever it is, make sure it’s what you want to be doing. There is no shame in enjoying “Me time.” Being a more relaxed you means that you will be better able to cope with stressors when they come at you.
We must also bear in mind that stress can affect us all and in very different ways. We may be stressed out by things we aren’t even aware of, so if you find yourself experiencing some of the symptoms, such as sleeping too much, drinking excessively, a drop in libido, unexplained aches and pains, or constant anxiety, then take a moment to reflect on if something is bothering you. Once you are able to identify and accept that there is a problem, then managing that problem becomes easier.
Alicia Roopnaraine is a Psychologist at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation’s Psychiatric Department. You can send questions or comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org