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Posted: Friday 24 November, 2017 at 2:42 PM

Managing Stress

By: Dr. Cherese Godwin, Psychologist, Commentary

    In today’s society, we are plagued with a series of responsibilities in the midst of constant change and natural disasters. We may think to ourselves that it is overbearing to maintain our privacy and status in the midst of all the pressures that surround us. The demands of work, home, community, finances, appearances, family and friends, can all contribute to stress in our lives. 

     

    Stress can be good and bad. Stress can be good in the sense that it assists you to rise to the occasion to handle tasks or even to grow as an individual or a firm. It ignites the ‘flight or fight’ response in you to either run from the situations that may harm or help you, or it can cause you to stick around and fight to prove to yourself or others that you can do what it takes or rise above the challenges you may be faced with.  

    Stress can also be bad. Stress that is prolonged actually has negative effects on your brain, causing it to shrink. It also causes the hippocampus-the area in the brain responsible for learning, memory, and emotions- to deteriorate. That is why when persons are extremely stressed, they begin to forget things and have mood swings. Chronic stress can lead to depression and possibly Alzheimer’s disease. Stress is primarily a physical response. When stressed, the body thinks it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine to prepare the body for physical action. This causes a number of reactions, from blood being diverted to muscles to shutting down unnecessary bodily functions such as digestion.

    When a bridge is carrying too much weight, it will eventually collapse. It is possible to see the warning signs before this happens:- the bridge would bow, buckle and creak. The same principle can be applied to human beings, when excessive demands and challenges are placed on our bridges (body). There may be early warning signs. However, stress can creep up on some of us, resulting in an unexpected breakdown. Therefore, recognizing the triggers that cause stress to your body is important. These triggers are the things that increase stress or add to your level of stress. If you can eliminate the triggers or learn how to control them, you will be helping your body, mind, and those around you who may experience the side effects of when you are stressed. 
     
    Knowing ways to reduce stress is imperative as stressful situations and people are constantly around us. One major factor in the reduction of stress is to stay positive no matter what is going on. It is so very easy to be negative and to allow negative things and people to enter our life, especially when we entertain them. Finding the strength in all situations, even the most negative or hurtful situations can assist in being positive. Looking at yourself and analyzing if you are the cause of some of your stressful situations by what you allow to happen, your actions, and even your responses, is a start.  Therefore, learning how to put up boundaries is important to maintaining your wellbeing, as well as learning to tune out the negative noise and chatter from other persons. 
     
    Exercising, eating healthy, and staying hydrated also assists in the reduction of stress. Forgiving others and moving on also helps to reduce stress even if there is no apology involved. 

    Physical exercise can be used as a surrogate to metabolize the excessive stress hormones and restore your body and mind to a calmer, more relaxed state. Rather than relying on medication, your aim should be to maximize your relaxation before going to sleep.  Make sure that your bedroom is a tranquil oasis with no reminders of the things that cause you stress. Avoid caffeine during the evening, as well as excessive alcohol if you know that this leads to disturbed sleep. Stop doing any mentally demanding work several hours before going to bed so that you give your brain time to calm down. Try taking a warm bath or reading a calming, undemanding book for a few minutes to relax your body, tire your eyes and help you forget about the things that worry you.

    Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and so will increase your level of stress rather than reduce it. Alcohol is a depressant when taken in large quantities, but acts as a stimulant in smaller quantities. Swap caffeinated and alcoholic drinks for water, herbal teas, or diluted natural fruit juices, and aim to keep yourself hydrated as this will enable your body to cope better with stress.

    If you need to talk to someone about what you’re going through find a close friend, family member, or professional counselor who can best advise you and assist you with the issues you may be experiencing. Often times it is hard to be in the midst of situations and to not be able to find the best solutions and act on them. Learning and unlearning behaviors is also key. A professional counselor in the community can assist you to become your best self and reduce the stress, however, you have to be able to have an open mind and want to change. 

    "LifeLines is a monthly column dedicated to addressing issues of mental, behavioural, and social health. The column appears monthly, and is written by professionals in the field of social work, mental health, and community medicine".
     
     
     
     
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