STRESS AND STRESS MANAGEMENT
Stress is the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. The body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses. The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. Stress can be positive, keeping us alert and ready to avoid danger. Stress becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between challenges. As a result, the person becomes overworked and stress-related tension builds.
Stress that continues without relief can lead to a condition called distress – a negative stress reaction. Distress can lead to physical symptoms including headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, and problems sleeping. Research suggests that stress also can bring on or worsen certain symptoms or diseases.
Stress also becomes harmful when people use alcohol, tobacco, or drugs to try and relieve their stress. Unfortunately, instead of relieving the stress and returning the body to a relaxed state, these substances tend to keep the body in a stressed state and cause more problems.
What is Stress?
Modern life is full of hassles, deadlines, frustrations, and demands. For many people, stress is so commonplace that it has become a way of life. Stress isn’t always bad. In small doses, it can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best. But when you’re constantly running in emergency mode, your mind and body pay the price.
If you frequently find yourself feeling frazzled and overwhelmed, it’s time to take action to bring your nervous system back into balance. You can protect yourself by learning how to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress and taking steps to reduce its harmful effects.
Stress is an unavoidably part of life. It has been variously described as the number one health issue accounting for up to 80% of all health issues; a ‘silent killer’ and a ‘slow poison’.
Stress is a normal physical response to events that make you feel threatened or upset your balance in some way. When you sense danger – whether it’s real or imagined – the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction, or the stress response.
The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life – giving you extra strength to defend yourself, for example, or spurring you to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident.
The stress response also help you rise to meet challenges. Stress is what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting the game-winning free throw, or drives you to study for an exam when you’d rather be watching TV.
But beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, your mood, your productivity, your relationships, and your quality of life.
Stress can be referred to as:
- Any reaction to a physical, mental or emotional stimulus which upsets the body’s natural balance.
- It is mental pressure arising from worry and anxiety over unfavorable situations in one’s or another person’s life
- Stress is pressure mounted when you want to do so many things within limited time, and perhaps, with limited resources.
- It is a buildup of tension within the body due to constant worry or anxiety.
- Stress can be a shock or trauma leading to bodily or mental injury.
Signs and Symptoms of Stress Overload
The following table lists some of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress. The more signs and symptoms you notice in yourself, the closer you may be to stress overload.
|Signs and Symptoms||Cognitive Symptoms||Emotional Symptoms||Physical Symptoms||Behavioral Symptoms|
|1.||Memory problems||Moodiness||Aches and pains||Eating more or less|
|2.||Inability to concentrate||Irritability or short temper||Diarrhea or constipation||Sleeping too much or too little|
|3.||Poor judgment||Agitation, inability to relax||Nausea, dizziness||Isolating yourself from others|
|4.||Seeing only the negative||Feeling overwhelmed||Chest pain, rapid heartbeat||Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities|
|5.||Anxious or racing thoughts||Sense of loneliness and isolation||Loss of sex drive||Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax|
|6.||Constant worrying||Depression or general unhappiness||Frequent colds||Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)|
Keep in mind that the signs and symptoms of stress can also be caused by other psychological and medical problems. If you’re experiencing any of the warning signs of stress, it’s important to see a doctor for a full evaluation. Your doctor can help you determine whether or not your symptoms are stress-related.
Causes of Stress
The situations and pressures that cause stress are known as stressors. We usually think of stressors as being negative, such as an exhausting work schedule or a rocky relationship. However, anything that puts high demands on you or forces you to adjust can be stressful. This includes positive events such as getting married, buying a house, going to college, or receiving a promotion.
What causes stress depends, at least in part, on your perception of it. Something that’s stressful to you may not faze someone else; they may even enjoy it. For example, your morning commute may make you anxious and tense because you worry that traffic will make you late. Others, however, may find the trip relaxing because they allow more than enough time and enjoy listening to music while they drive.
Common external causes of stress
Not all stress is caused by external factors. Stress can also be self-generated:
- Major life changes and challenges
- Relationship difficulties
- Financial problems
- Being too busy
- Children and family
Common Internal Causes of Stress
Not all stress is caused by internal factors. Stress can also be self-generated:
- Inability to accept uncertainty
- Negative self-talk
- Unrealistic expectations
- Lack of assertiveness
Other common causes of stress:
- Bad habit – its brings fear and worry
- Delayed answers to prayers
- Anger, envy, jealousy
- Lack of planning/delegation.
- Lack of good rest, good food and exercise
- Sedentary life style
- Setting goal too high (over bearing ambition)
- ring ambitions
Individuals at Higher Risk for Stress
Studies indicate that the following people are more vulnerable to the effects of stress than others:
- Older adults: As people age, achieving a relaxation response after a stressful event becomes more difficult. Aging may simply wear out the systems in the brain that respond to stress, so that they become inefficient. The elderly, too, are very often exposed to major stressors such as medical problems, the loss of a spouse and friends, a change in a living situation, and financial worries. No one is immune to stress, however, and it may simply go unnoticed in the very young and old.
- Women in general and working mothers specifically: Working mothers, regardless of whether they are married or single, face higher stress levels and possibly adverse health effects, most likely because they bear a greater and more diffuse work load than men or other women. This has been observed in women in the U.S. and in Europe. Such stress may also have a domino and harmful effect on their children. It is not clear, however, if stress has the same adverse effects on women’s hearts as it does on men’s.
- Less educated individuals.
- Divorced or widowed individuals: Numerous studies indicate that unmarried people generally do not live as long as their married contemporaries.
- Anyone experiencing financial strain, particularly long-term unemployed and those without health insurance.
- People who are isolated or lonely.
- People who are targets of racial or sexual discrimination.
- People who live in cities.
Effects of Chronic Stress
The body doesn’t distinguish between physical and psychological threats. When you’re stressed over a busy schedule, an argument with a friend, a traffic jam, or a mountain of bills, your body reacts just as strongly as if you were facing a life-or-death situation. If you have a lot of responsibilities and worries, your emergency stress response may be “on” most of the time. The more your body’s stress system is activated, the easier it is to trip and the harder it is to shut off.
Long-term exposure to stress can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can raise blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility, and speed up the aging process. Long-term stress can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.
Many health problems are caused or exacerbated by stress, including:
- Pain of any kind
- Heart disease
- Digestive problems
- Sleep problems
- Sexual and reproductive dysfunction
- Autoimmune diseases
- Skin conditions, such as eczema
- Substance abuse
Other consequences of stress includes:
- Behavioral disability
- Loss of peace
- It damages interpersonal relationships.
- It can lead to broken homes.
- It can prolong prayers – anxiety, worry, evidence of lack of trust in God.
- It can lead to loss of opportunities.
- It can lead to serious irreversible problems in life.
- It can lead to sudden death if not well managed.
- It can hamper productivity and creativity.
- Marital disharmony.
Dealing with Stress and its Symptoms
While unchecked stress is undeniably damaging, there are many things you can do to reduce its impact and cope with symptoms.
Learn how to manage stress
You may feel like the stress in your life is out of your control, but you can always control the way you respond. Managing stress is all about taking charge: taking charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems. Stress management involves changing the stressful situation when you can, changing your reaction when you can’t, taking care of yourself, and making time for rest and relaxation.
Learn to have good diet
Eat good food. Avoid junk foods and snacking. Eat food rich in proteins, vegetables, cereals, fruits, dairy products (milk). Avoid refined flour, sugar (of all kinds), and saturated fats. Watch your intake of salt, alcohol, caffeine and take less starchy food.
Learn how to relax
You can’t completely eliminate stress from your life, but you can control how much it affects you. Relaxation techniques such as listening to cool worship songs, meditation on the word of God, good seating position with back straight and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the opposite of the stress response. When practiced regularly, these activities lead to a reduction in your everyday stress levels and a boost in your feelings of joy and serenity. They also increase your ability to stay calm and collected under pressure.
|Relaxation Methods||Specific Procedure|
|Deep Breathing Exercises. During stress, breathing becomes shallow and rapid. Taking a deep breath is an automatic and effective technique for winding down. Deep breathing exercises consciously intensify this natural physiologic reaction and can be very useful during a stressful situation, or for maintaining a relaxed state during the day.||* Inhale through the nose slowly and deeply to the count of 10. |
* Make sure that the stomach and abdomen expand, but the chest does not rise.
* Exhale through the nose, slowly and completely, also to the count of 10.
* To help quiet the mind, concentrate fully on breathing and counting through each cycle.
* Repeat five to 10 times, and make a habit of doing the exercise several times each day, even when not feeling stressed.
|Muscle Relaxation. Muscle relaxation techniques, often combined with deep breathing, are simple to learn and very useful for getting to sleep. In the beginning it is useful to have a friend or partner check for tension by lifting an arm and dropping it. The arm should fall freely. Practice makes the exercise much more effective and produces relaxation much more rapidly. Small studies have reported beneficial effects on blood pressure in patients with high blood pressure who use this technique.||* After lying down in a comfortable position without crossing the limbs, concentrate on each part of the body.|
* Maintain a slow, deep breathing pattern throughout this exercise.
* Tense each muscle as tightly as possible for a count of five to 10, and then release it completely.
*Experience the muscle as totally relaxed and lead-heavy.
* Begin with the top of the head and progress downward to focus on all the muscles in the body.
*Be sure to include the forehead, ears, eyes, mouth, neck, shoulders, arms and hands, fingers, chest, belly, thighs, calves, and feet.
*Once the external review is complete, imagine tensing and releasing internal muscles.
|Meditation. Meditation, used for many years in Eastern cultures, is now widely accepted as a relaxation technique. The goal of all meditative procedures, both religious and therapeutic, is to quiet the mind (essentially, to relax thought). Small studies have suggested that regular meditation can benefit the heart and help reduce blood pressure. Better research is needed, however, to confirm such claims. Some recommend meditating for no longer than 20 minutes in the morning after awakening and then again in early evening before dinner. Even once a day is helpful. Note: Meditating before going to bed may cause some people to wake up in the middle of the night, alert and unable to return to sleep. Joshua 1:8, Ps. 94:19||* That is why Christians should be well loaded with scripture at heart – Ps 119:11.|
* Thorough study of the word of God can best help to relax, by meditating on it with a quiet heart.
* In-heart prayer too helps cool the mind and also could help have the opportunity to hear from God.
* If the mind begins to think about the past or future, or fills with unformed thoughts or worries, redirect it gently back.
|Massage Therapy. A review of data from multiple studies showed that massage therapy decreases cortisol levels. Interestingly, massage was more beneficial than receiving social support from the partner, indicating the power of physical touch in managing stress. Several massage therapies are available.||Many massage techniques are available, such as the following:|
* Swedish massage is the standard massage technique. It uses long smooth strokes, and kneading and tapping of the muscles.
* Shiatsu applies intense pressure to the same points targeted in acupuncture. It can be painful, but people report deep relaxation afterward.
*Reflexology manipulates acupuncture points in the hands and feet.
Learn quick stress relief
Everybody has the power to reduce the impact of stress as it’s happening in that moment. With practice, you can learn to spot stressors and stay in control when the pressure builds. Sensory stress-busting techniques give you a powerful tool for staying clear-headed and in control in the middle of stressful situations. They give you the confidence to face challenges, knowing that you have the ability to rapidly bring yourself back into balance.
Seek Professional Help for Stress
Stress can be a factor in a variety of physical and emotional illnesses, which should be professionally treated. Many stress symptoms are mild and can be managed by over-the-counter medications (for example, aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen for tension headaches; antacids, anti-diarrhea medications, or laxatives for mild stomach distress). A physician should be consulted, however, for physical symptoms that are out of the ordinary, particularly those that get worse or wake a person up at night. A mental health professional should be consulted for unmanageable acute stress or for severe anxiety or depression. Often short-term therapy can resolve stress-related emotional problems.
Restructuring Priorities: Adding Stress Reducing Activities.
The next step is to attempt to shift the balance from stress-producing to stress-reducing activities. Eliminating stress is rarely practical or feasible, but there are many ways to reduce its impact.
Consider as many relief options as possible. Examples include:
- Listen to music. Cool worship songs are an effective stress reducer in both healthy individuals and people with health problems. In one study, for example, students who listened to a well-known gentle classical piece of music during a stressful task had reduced feelings of anxiety, heart rate, and blood pressure.
- Take long weekends or, ideally, vacations.
- If the source of stress is in the home, plan times away, even if it is only an hour or 2 a week.
- Replace unnecessary time-consuming chores with pleasurable or interesting activities.
- Make time for recreation. This is as essential as paying bills or shopping for groceries.
- Plan your work, be organized
The concept of communication and letting your feelings out has been so excessively promoted and parodied that it has nearly lost its value as good psychological advice. Nevertheless, feelings of anger or frustration that are not expressed in an acceptable way may lead to hostility, a sense of helplessness, and depression.
Expressing feelings does not mean venting frustration on waiters and subordinates, boring friends with emotional minutia, or wallowing in self-pity. In fact, because blood pressure may spike when certain chronically hostile individuals become angry, some therapists strongly advise that just talking, not simply venting anger, is the best approach, especially for these people.
The primary goal is to explain and assert one’s needs to a trusted individual in as positive a way as possible. Direct communication may not even be necessary. Writing in a journal, writing a poem, or composing a letter that is never mailed may be sufficient.
Expressing one’s feelings solves only half of the communication puzzle. Learning to listen, empathize, and respond to others with understanding is just as important for maintaining the strong relationships necessary for emotional fulfillment and reduced stress.
Also seek godly counsel in matters beyond your ability to handle. This helps in quickly resolving conflicts and avoiding malicious bitterness, anger etc – Eph. 4:26 anger is dangerous and brings nothing but shame – Eph. 4:31-32.
Keep Perspective and Look for the Positive
Reversing negative ideas and learning to focus on positive outcomes helps reduce tension and achieve goals. The following steps, using an example of a person who is alarmed at the prospect of giving a speech, may be useful:
- First, identify the worst possible outcomes (forgetting the speech, stumbling over words, humiliation, audience contempt).
- Rate the likelihood of these bad outcomes happening (probably very low or that speaker wouldn’t have been selected in the first place).
- Envision a favorable result (a well-rounded, articulate presentation with rewarding applause).
- Develop a specific plan to achieve the positive outcome (preparing in front of a mirror, using a video camera or tape recorder, relaxation exercises).
- Try to recall previous situations that initially seemed negative but ended well.
Research has shown that humor is a very effective mechanism for coping with acute stress. Keeping a sense of humor during difficult situations is a common recommendation from stress management experts. Laughter not only releases the tension of pent-up feelings and helps keep perspective, but it appears to have actual physical effects that reduce stress hormone levels. It is not uncommon for people to recall laughing intensely even during tragic events, such as the death of a loved one, and to remember this laughter as helping them to endure the emotional pain.
Always cultivate a joyful habit. Laughter is regarded as a healer. Prov. 17:22; 14:30; I Thes. 5:16; Phil. 4:4
Pray without ceasing.
Prayer is an essential key to a healthy life. A close contact and relationship with God, keeps one far away from the Creator. That is the reasons why God Himself wants every individual person to stay healthy, to give rooms to constant fellowship between God and man. 3 John 1:2. It is good man keeps nothing away from God, including one’s health.