1 in 5 British workers physically ill; 1 in 4 reduced to tears in the workplace; unprecedented demand for anti-depressants…..All due to stress.
Yet, stress is not always a bad thing. The American Psychological Association states that “Stress can be the kiss of death or the spice of life,” depending on how we manage it.
Imagine watching an adventure movie, say Indiana Jones or Fast and Furious. Or riding a rollercoaster. When things get really exciting, the body’s emergency response system kicks in, releasing hormones that make you breathe faster, increase your blood pressure and heart rate, and really get the adrenalin pumping as extra glucose and blood cells rush to the rescue. Once the situation that triggered this response has passed, the body returns to normal. But if the stress factor continues, the same mechanism can cause intense anxiety.
Much of today’s stress, of course, is far from pleasant, but how we handle it can make all the difference to our overall mental and physical health. Tobacco, excessive alcohol, overeating or ‘vegging out’ in front of a TV or computer screen will only make things worse.
According to the National Institutes of Health in the US: “The best start to relieving stress is…..a well-balanced, healthy diet as well as getting enough sleep and exercise. Also, limit caffeine and alcohol intake and don’t use nicotine, cocaine or other street drugs.” Other suggestions are regular breaks, hobbies and spending time with friends and family.
For some people, it’s hard to juggle work and family commitments, especially when there are children and elderly parents to consider. But, no matter how packed your schedule, it’s important to find time to relax – otherwise you’re unlikely to help anyone, least of all yourself. Prioritise, make sure you get enough sleep, and set aside much needed ’me time’. If your current schedule won’t allow you to, maybe you should simplify your life. Do you really need that top-of-the-range car? The dream kitchen? Or a designer wardrobe? So many people wear themselves out by chasing after ‘things’ which can never make you happy. Try to be satisfied with the quality of life rather than the amount of stuff you can acquire!
In recession, job security and fears for the future may hang heavily. People with consistent support from family or friends are less affected by stress-related disorders, so being able to confide in someone close is a real protection. On top of personal anxiety about the future, the news is full of worrying events. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, violent crime, accidents and illness are on every news item, which doesn’t make them any easier to cope with.
Yes, there are plenty of worries to keep you awake at night - if you let them! Try to avoid negative thinking – those ‘what if?’ disasters rarely happen and will only drag you downwards if you dwell on them. Just take one day at a time, deal with every problem as it arises and, if you’re a believer, pray about it.
Spending 8 or more hours a day with a difficult boss or colleague is bound to get you down. Should they annoy or offend you, it can be hard to keep your tongue in check. But do try. Whereas a snide comment or angry response from you can make the situation 100 times worse, time and time again mildness has proved more powerful than rage, keeping tensions at bay and even softening the other person’s attitude.
If someone ‘has words’ with you, perhaps criticising you unfairly (at least in your view) try to keep the argument private, settling things with dignity and respect. You may believe you’re in the right, but it helps to see the problem from the other person’s angle and you may come to see their grievance is valid. Even if they’re completely in the wrong, be forgiving. People who bear grudges often have an increased heart rate and high blood pressure, while letting go of any resentment will lower stress levels.
There’s no doubt, every human on the planet suffers some form of stress. You may not be able to remove the causes; what you CAN do is to deflect your own anxiety by helping others, by reaching out in some way. Giving to others is one of the fastest routes to happiness and peace of mind – the perfect antidote to stressful – and even traumatic – conditions.