Stress is good - Well sort of…….?

Stress management

When was the last time you walked into a train and saw people just sitting or standing looking into “space” or out of the window?  When was the last time you walked in the street and everyone was mindful of where they are going, but not in a hurry to get there first?  When was the last time you walked into an office and everyone was relaxed, thinking, planning, calmly listening to each other and discussing matters of importance, but not urgency?

What is the point that I am making?  Today’s world is going at such a fast pace that most of us don’t think about, pay attention to, or even notice others as we hurriedly make our way to the office, to home, the shops or in general through life!  What is the impact of this on our well-being and in general on how we see life – Do we live to work, or work to live?

Stress is at the base of many symptoms and “dis-eases” that modern man suffers – insomnia, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, digestive problems such as Crohn’s disease and acid reflux, much of which we bring on ourselves by the type of life we lead.  What is stress and how can we manage it?

Stress may be defined as  “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.”  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 to fend off danger.   This is commonly known as the “fight or flight” response.

In the modern world, the ‘fight or flight’ mode can still help us survive dangerous modern day situations, If taken to the extreme it can cause a number of reactions, from blood being diverted to muscles to shutting down unnecessary bodily functions such as digestion. If we find ourselves in the fight or flight state for long periods, due to too much stress, blood flow to the brain is minimised, potentially leading to the inability to think straight and cause dis-eased reactions in our general state of health.  Elevated cortisol levels can lead us to being less tolerant of others, aggressive and short tempered as well as causing an increase in sugar and blood pressure levels, and often a decrease in libido.

Pressure or Stress

Most of us respond well to and give of our best when jobs, careers and lives are challenging, but at the same time stimulating, and interesting.  Tasks that are too easy do not engage us or encourage us to give of our best.  On the other hand tasks that are overly challenging, or too numerous push us, and inevitably those around us into an area of too much stress.  Giving of our best means learning to know when we are under or over our limit.  Signs might include:

Under-stressed – We show a lack of interest or enthusiasm.  We don’t see the meaning behind what we are doing and become bored or have lack of energy.  The colour associated with this state would probably be “grey”.

Over-stressed – We feel anxious and often confused, feeling like we are in a hamster wheel with no way out. Judgment on situations drops, our ability to solve problems becomes less effective, mistakes increase, re-work increases, and potentially we get angry and frustrated at ourselves and others.  The colour here would probably be “red”

Optimum level – We are alert and self-confident.  We are interested, respond appropriately and do our tasks with energy.  Our overall demeanor is calm, relaxed, positive and enthusiastic.  For this state, there are several colours that might be associated with optimum level – yellow, green and blue. 

How to achieve and maintain optimum level

Research into lifestyle shows that we will be better equipped to manage stressful situations if they come along when mentally and physically well.  This means exercising at least three times per week.  Exercise does not have to be running a half marathon or doing the iron man, it can be walking the dog, or yourself upwards of 30 minutes at a steady pace.  It can be swimming, playing tennis, football or any other sport that increases cardiovascular activity to exercise the heart muscle, increase oxygen in the blood, and to the brain and raise the essential endorphins or feel-good factor.

Maintaining the correct body weight means we are not straining our heart, we are feeling comfortable and happy within ourselves and the organs within our body are not having to work harder, thus taking essential energy due to excess body weight. 

Body weight and energy are achieved through a balanced diet.  Does this mean we cant have the odd piece of cake, packet of crisps or bar of chocolate?  Of course not!  However, eating three meals a day thus feeding the brain as well as the body is important.  Meals should contain slow releasing carbohydrates (whole grains, lentils and pulses), essential fats of Omega 3 and 6 (avocados, pumpkin, sunflower and flax seeds), good quality protein to supply with body with amino acids (chicken, eggs, fish and lentils), and lots of vegetables.  In other words at every meal you should be eating the rainbow! 

Water is not only essential for our bodies, but vital for organ health, the brain and all bodily functions. The human body is made up of 75% water and 25% solid matter.  Brain tissue is 85% water.  When cells in the body are starved of water they start to complain manifesting in different reactions, including stress.

Additional methods of coping to help us maintain optimum level are:

  • Practice good time management
  • Say “No” when it is needed to say “No”
  • Practice constructive self talk
  • Develop a support system of people you can talk to
  • Avoid procrastination – do it today!

Stress is necessary at some points in our life, the trick is to ensure that it is “optimum level” stress and if for some reason it goes into “over stress” it is short lived and temporary.

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