Doctors agree that stress is bad for our health. Studies link stress to depression, skin conditions and heart disease, to name just a few. So, whom do we thank for this pesky peccadillo? “Most people readily acknowledge work pressure as a source of stress, but few people realise that boredom and under-involvement are also a threat,” says Counselling Psychologist Claire Newton. “We need moderate levels of stress in order to function at our optimal best. Of course what is optimal will differ from one individual to the next. So, we need to find out our own level of optimal activity and stay within our own parameters.” According to Claire, common stress-triggers include:
- Poor social skills – the inability to interact freely and easily with others.
- Lacking assertiveness – when we cannot ask for what we want or say no to what we are uncomfortable with.
- Change (adaption) – events that involve change are stressful, even celebrated events like marriage, birth, Christmas or moving home.
- Poor nutrition – a fast-food lifestyle places stress on the body by depriving it of essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals, leaving the body vulnerable to the consequences of stress.
From the inside out
Dr John Demartini, author of 40 books, including From Stress to Success – in just 31 days, and widely considered one of the world’s leading authorities on human behaviour and personal empowerment, shares his take on stress being an internal, rather than external reaction. “William James, the Father of modern Psychology, believed the greatest discovery in his generation was that people could alter their lives by altering their perceptions and attitudes of mind. It is not so much what happens on the outside that determines our destiny. It is our perceptions, decisions and actions that determine our outcomes. We are not here to be victims of our history. We are here to be masters of our destiny.” This means any experience can be stressful or blissful….depending on how we perceive it to be!
Adding another particularly interesting dimension to stress, Dr Demartini suggests that stress may also result from unrealistic expectations of yourself and others. “People live according their own set of priorities or values. Whenever you expect them to live according to yours (and not theirs) you experience the ABCs of negativity – anger and aggression, blame and betrayal, and criticism and challenge.”
On the spot stress busters
Managing stress is usually a medium to long term process that includes the like of amending attitude and learning to plan better. However there are techniques that offer immediate relief.
Dr Judy Jaye, The Voice and Stress Clinic’s Training and Development Manager, says that because stress is a feeling of anxiety or negativity, and because you are in control of your own thinking, your strongest weapon is your mind. “When you start to think negatively, immediately realise that you are in control – one of the greatest stress relievers is to focus on something positive. When stress strikes, breathe deeply and get in some positive self talk,” says Dr Jaye.
If you have little time on your hands, meditate using the following technique:
- Sit on a cushion in a quiet place
- Take deep breaths, while asking the universe (or the Lord for religious beings) to help you see positive elements in the crisis you are facing.
- Spend about five minutes quietly calming your senses, while visualising these positive thoughts. If negativity creeps in, immediately refocus on something positive.
- End by giving thanks for this quiet opportunity that has allowed you to ask for help.
Stretching relieves stress because it helps to release muscles that have become tense under stress. “Some muscles tighten up so much that they can pull the human skeleton out of alignment if they are not regularly stretched,” says Claire Newton. She suggests simple stretching exercises to increase energy and comfort. Try the following:
- Windmill both arms backwards.
- Shrug your shoulders backwards
- Rub your hands together and knead the muscles of your neck like dough.
- All stretches should be held for at least 20 seconds and accompanied by slow deep breaths to oxygenate and relax the body. Breathe in through your nostrils and out through the mouth.”
Sip a cup of herbal tea. Rich in antioxidants, ancient cultures such as the Chinese, have hailed the soothing properties of tea for centuries.
Other well-documented stress-busters include, listening to relaxing music, watching a funny movie, interacting with positive minded friends and spending time with pets.
Fortunately, simple actions can be most effective when stress strikes. As author, Douglas Pagels said: “Sometimes it is important to work for that pot of gold. But other times it’s essential to take time off and to make sure that your most important decision is the day simply consists of choosing which color to slide down on the rainbow!”