Stressed about stress: How can we get some relief?
According to the Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey 2013, as a nation, our wellbeing has dropped significantly over the last 2 years. We report ourselves as a less well, happy or joyful nation than we did 2 years ago. At the same time, found in the same survey, was an increase in our perceived levels of stress.
What does this mean?
Basically, as time goes by citizens of our country are becoming more stressed and less happy. Stress has found its way into the minds and lives of every type of person. From children struggling with anxiety issues, to older Australians too scared to leave their homes, we are a nation that is stressed, distressed and having lower well-being than we had in years past.
Sounds pretty stressful, right?
So what is stress? Stress can be defined as being:
A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.
Basically, it is the state we find ourselves in when we are put under demands that outweigh our own capacity to deal with them in the long term. When under stress, our body realises that the task at hand requires more resources, so it organises itself into being ready for action all the time. Stress helps us to respond quickly, to not slack off and to be alert; all good things. But as time goes by, our body can’t continue functioning at this level. We get tired, our immune system is less able to fight off illnesses and we get run down. A lot of health risks are associated with stress.
Have you ever wondered why you get a sore neck when you’re stressed? It’s because your body has been ready to react for so long that your muscles become sore. The longer we continue under stress, the more our body suffers until we are forced to withdraw from the demands we were trying to meet in the first place.
Burnout, breakdowns and sickness all stem from stress in the long term. Our amazing human bodies are equipped to adapt too many situations, but when it’s too much for too long our body can’t cut it. We only have a limited amount of resources to use before we need to reduce our workload.
So that’s stress right, and I’m pretty sure we’re all under some form of stress from time to time in our lives. So how on earth do we keep it in check and ensure we don’t risk our long term health?
1. Your Body
As I already mentioned before, stress becomes exhausting when our body lacks the resources to deal with the demands placed on it. We can combat the effects of stress by looking after our body. It’s amazing how many parts of our body and mind benefit from us doing the right thing.
Keep away from too much caffeine: Caffeine stimulates our nervous system the same way as stress does; it puts you on edge, gives you a wake up so you can push past your body’s limits. Exactly what we’re trying to avoid here.
Exercise: As we exercise we get a release of endorphins to help us feel good. It helps us get energy and even distracts us from our worries. A dear friend of mine who has struggled with schizophrenia told me recently that her head is so much better when she exercises. We were made to be active, so try and put some activity into your daily routine.
Eat right: Sugar, fatty foods, lack of fruits, vegetables and water all attribute to reducing our energy and ability to cope with stressors. What we put into our body is what fuels us. Maybe try and eat a little less take away and one extra piece of fruit each day.
Get enough Sleep: There’s no shortcut here, we need to sleep so we have energy, to give our minds and bodies a break, and to help us fight off any illnesses. 7-9 hours is what you need. Prioritise your forty winks, your body will thank you everyday.
2. Your Mind
Talk to somebody: Sometimes our stress comes from internal demands as well as external. Anxiety, depression, and some personality disorders all have similar effects on our body as stress. It is always beneficial to invest the time into your mental health and talk to somebody. Just because it’s hard does not mean you’re failing. Today might be the perfect time to open up to somebody you trust or a professional who can help you to deal with what life is throwing you.
Give yourself a break: A hobby is a wonderful thing to help with stress, whether it be Pokemon, kickboxing or reading. Find something you can do that makes you happy, that gives you enjoyment or makes you feel relaxed. Don’t be afraid to take time for yourself in your busy world to do something that is fun! I don’t feel guilty when I relax and watch a movie, or go for a walk whilst listening to music. You deserve to be looked after, so take the time to give yourself a break.
Learn some relaxation exercises: These are a great help; when you’re lying on your bed and can’t help but feel tense and anxious, try a relaxation exercise. This could be as easy as slowing down your breathing, and relaxing each muscle group in your body one by one until you feel your whole body relaxed.
Other exercises involve breathing in slowly, holding the breath for 5 seconds and breathing out slowly. It’s amazing how a small thing can help a whole lot for our body and mind.
3. Your Spirit/ Soul
Sometimes we’re stressed because our life seems meaningless, we feel like we are getting no credit for pushing ourselves every day, it seems like we can never catch a break, or like everybody is out for their own gain and nobody cares. These issues pop up in everybody’s mind at times and they can cause stress and strain that is expressed in our whole body. Sometimes the spiritual side of our life needs to be addressed in order to relieve stress.
For me personally, I find great release and relaxation in knowing a higher power. Knowing that there is a God and that Jesus gives my life meaning helps to put things into perspective and brings my focus off my stressors and onto good things.
If you find that you are questioning these things I can encourage you to seek answers. Ask questions, journal, seek out a church; all could lead you to work out what you believe in life.
4. Your Schedule
We all have demands placed on us, and at times we can’t help but be stressed, but I encourage you to look at these demands and determine which you really care about, which stressors are worth being exposed to, and what you want your long term goals to be. By looking at your schedule, you might find a way to even out or lessen a stressful load and give yourself a little more freedom in your daily life.
Everything from our mind to our schedule can affect our stress levels; it’s our responsibility to do what we can to look after ourselves and to combat the negative side effects of stress. So be kind to yourself, and look at how you can reduce the stress in your life. You were made to live happily and healthily, and reducing stress is a big step towards this.