How To Overcome Stress
Dr Thanh-Tam Pham - 30/4/2018
Stress is a normal human response to challenging or dangerous situations. It is a part of life and a small amount of stress can actually be helpful as it can lead to increased alertness, energy and productivity. A complete lack of stress can lead to reduced motivation and performance.
Stress triggers the “fight or flight” response, preparing the body to take action against potential danger. Hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released causing the heart rate, breathing rate and metabolism to speed up.
Stress works well for short term threats but if it goes on for too long or it exceeds the capacity for an individual to cope, it can have damaging effects on the mind and body.
Stress can be caused by your circumstances or by your own attitudes and expectations.
If stress is greater than your ability to cope, it can lead to physical and mental health problems and cause difficilties with relationships and work.
Signs and symptoms of Stress overload
When you repeatedly experience the fight and flight response in your daily life, it can raise blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, speed up the aging process and can lead to mental and emotional problems.
Stress can affect all the systems in the body:
a- Brain and nervous system:
-inability to concentrate
-seeing only the negative
- irritability or short temper
-agitation, inability to relax
- anxiety or depression
b- Heart/ blood vessels:
- Chest tightness, rapid heart beat, palpitations
- Increase blood pressure and risk of stroke
- Increase risk of cardiovascular disease such as heart attack
c- Digestive system:
- Nausea, vomiting , reflux
- Stress ulcers
- Irritable bowel disease: bloatedness, constipation, diarrhea
d- Musculo-skeletal system:
- Aches and pains
e- Immune system:
- Reduce immunity, frequent colds…
f- Reproductive /urological system:,
- Loss of sex drive
- Affecting menstruation cycles
- Urinary frequency
g- Behavioural problems:
- Drugs, alcohol and cigarettes use to release stress
- Nervous habits: nail biting
- Eating disturbances: anorexia or overeating. Weight problems with increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Social isolation, poor interpersonal relationship
- Fatigue, no energy
- Anger, irritation, frustration
- Low self esteem, low self confidence
- Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
The causes of Stress
Anything that puts high demands on you can cause stress. Stressors can be negative such as work overload, relationship problems or they can be positive such as getting married, buying a house, receive a job promotion…
Of course not all stress is caused by external factors but it can be self- generated such as when you worry about something that may or may not happen or when you have a pessimistic approach to life.
A lot of time excessive stress depends on your perception of it. Something that is stressful to you may be an enjoyment to others. For example driving may be enjoyable to some but can be stressful to others. Some people may be thriving when they have an opportunity to speak in public, while others find them frightful.
How to overcome Stress
1- Understand that stress is mostly due to our perception of the situation or of the life events.
When you perceive that the demands on you are overwhelming, or the situation is unfair to you, you feel stressed.
2- Practice mindfulness and be aware of the present moment.
If you anticipate that you have a lot of things to do, by thinking about them you often feel tired even before you do them. For example if you were told to walk a thousand steps, and your mind sticks to the number 1000, you may feel overwhelmed by the big number and you feel stressed, In reality, you only walk one step at one time and the next step will follow. If you imagine you are walking in the desert and you are very tired, if you think about the great distance you have to walk to safety you will feel overwhelmed and be depressed. In such situation, you have to save your energy just to think to walk one step forward and the next step will follow.
You practice mindfulness that is to focus on the task in front of you and do not anticipate the next step and the next step again. In such a way, you can manage to achieve a lot of tasks without much stress. You also get better efficiency and satisfying result if you completely focus at the task of the present moment. You have to think that if your mind is fully present at whatever you do, you will perform at your best ability and the result must be better. If by doing so and you still cannot achieve what you want to do, you have to accept it and try later. If your mind keeps focussing on the future results, you always feel stressed as you are afraid that you could not meet your expectation.
3- Exercise regularly will improve your fitness, your wellbeing and your endurance. It also improves your confidence and gives you more energy to tackle all the demands of this life. Furthermore when you do physical exercise, your mind does not think much and you can be more relaxed. Your physical health and mental health are intrinsically linked.
The basis of meditation is to practice the mind to be aware of the present moment to achieve peace in the mind as the mind has the habit to think a lot about the past that is gone or the future that is not here as yet.
Vipassana meditation is to practice mindfulness of breathing, of thoughts, feelings and actions to gain insight into yourself and insight into the true nature of reality.
5- Practice relaxation, yoga.
Stress can cause tension in muscles and tension headache. Relaxation will help the body and mind to recover from stress.
6- Your support network:
Talk to family and friends will help you to better cope with life stressors.
7- Your nutritional status: eat a balanced diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, high quality protein and high in omega 3 fatty acids can help your body to have good health to be more resilient to stress. Eating a diet full of processed and convenience food, refined carbohydrates, sugary snacks can worsen symptoms of stress.
8- Get a good night sleep: feeling tired can increase stress by causing you to think irrationally. Let go of your worries to be able to sleep.
When you can manage stress successfully it can be very rewarding as you are able to perform to the best of your potential in any situation. The simple trick is, do not pay too much attention on future result but pay attention to the present moment.