Oh! What a stressful day! Performing that task was really stressful! You look stressed! These are popular phrases that a lot of people use to describe conditions like tiredness, being under pressure or even a health situation.
However, no matter how modern the word used sounds, it usually does not do justice to the actual feeling the individual has.
Everyday, people exhibit signs of stress everywhere from the work place, schools, hospitals to the streets and most times it is overlooked. Most times it is noticed when the negative effects manifest due to poor management and coping mechanisms.
But, what if stress could be identified and dealt with at its early stages before it harms the person? This is why it is really important to have some knowledge on how to identify and manage stress effectively. Furthermore, a lot of health problems are caused by stress.
Stress may mean different things to different people. For example, what one person considers as stressful may not be so for another individual. Hence, there is diversity in the effects stress produces among various people. Stress is the body’s response to changes or demands placed on it. Such changes may include marriage, divorce, parenthood, death, change of jobs and illness.
Analytically, one may come to the conclusion that everything one does constitutes stress because in life, humans are constantly changing. Thus, the goal is not to eliminate stress but to manage it effectively.
Often, the stress experienced by many people is as a result of demands and expectations that are self imposed.
The word stress was coined by Hans Selye in 1936 and was defined as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.” Stress at adequate levels, can be useful in motivating people to accomplish more. When likened to a curve, healthy body functions and staying within the comfort zone of an individual precedes the peak of the curve. The peak connotes when the individual experiences fatigue, which when poorly managed develops into exhaustion, ill health and eventual breakdown in function of the individual involved.
Stress can be classified as good (also called eustress – winning a race, passing an examination) or bad (also called distress – crisis, death and ill health).
The sources of stress are called stressors and some common examples include jobs, relationships, health and financial issues.
Creating a stress management plan ought to be part of an overall wellness plan. Generally, response to stress includes fight or flight and adaptation syndrome.
During stress response, for instance, coming face-to-face with a wild animal, there is increased heart rate, breathing quickens, muscles tighten and blood pressure rises. Stress affects all areas of life including emotions, behaviors, thinking ability and physical health.
The symptoms of stress vary because people handle stress differently. For instance, being held up in a slow-moving traffic while one has to catch a flight or expecting the results of an exam that was tough. Some common symptoms of stress include:-
• Feeling anxious, frustrated and having a low mood.
v Having difficulty relaxing and focusing.
• Feeling like one is losing control or not in control
• Feeling of worthlessness, low self-esteem and hopelessness.
• Constant worrying
• Frequent forgetfulness and disorganization
• Body aches, pains and tense muscles
• Poor sleep
• Chest pain
• Upset stomach including diarrhoea, constipation and nausea
• Frequent colds and infections
• Loss/reduced sexual desire
• Dry mouth or difficulty swallowing
• Alcohol and tobacco abuse
• Fidgeting, nail biting
• Evading responsibilities and stagnation
• Procrastination and never finishing a job
• Eating disorders.
Stress relief techniques
• Breathing exercises: This technique can serve as a stand-alone practice for stress relief or could work together with other techniques. It is a popular, easy to perform technique, which can be done anywhere and produces quick results. Breathing exercises work well with burnout, headaches, fatigue, sleeping problems, concentration problems, anxiety and phobia and depression amongst others.
In this method, long, slow, deep breaths (called abdominal or belly breathing) are taken. As breathing is going on, one should gently disengage the mind from distracting thoughts and sensations and focus on breathing. For individuals with health conditions that make breathing difficult, this technique may not be appropriate.One should sit or lie flat in a comfortable position and take about three to 10 deep breaths at a time.
• Meditation: It is an ancient practice that can be done in different forms. It involves sitting in a relaxed position and clearing your mind of all thoughts, or focusing your mind on one thought and clearing it of all others. While breathing, the mind’s attention is brought to the present moment without drifting into concerns about the past or the future. This method may be helpful in people with anxiety, depression and pain. It also improves moods.
• Yoga: This is an age-old practice that still enjoys popularity.
Ethical practice, physical position, controlled breathing and mindful meditation constitutes traditional yoga. It helps in relieving stress, improving sleep, amongst others.
It involves stretching the body and forming different postures while breathing slowly and in a controlled manner. It improves energy and relaxes the body. This practice, however, requires some commitment of time and is not appropriate for people with certain physical limitations. Before commencing, medical advice should be sought on the most appropriate style to be chosen.
• Adequate sleep and rest: This helps the body relax, thereby relieving stress
• Healthy nutrition: This provides nutrients needed by the body to cope with stressful situations, thus preventing the harmful effects of stress
• Regular exercise: – improves the mood and prevents stress by generally reduces its harmful effects
• Music- Listening to music helps to relieve stress in some people because it calms and relaxes the mind.