Stress Management: Understanding Stress, Its Effects, Causes, Signs and Levels. Practical Tips to Manage Your Everyday Stress and Live a Happy Life!
What is Stress Management?
Knowing how to manage stress is a vital part of staying on top of busy lifestyles and the pressures and responsibilities of everyday life. Everyone gets stressed once in a while- the trick isn’t avoiding stress altogether but knowing how to stop it taking a toll on your life. To do that you need to understand what stress is on a biological levels and how it can show itself in your life. We have put together your ideal guide for better stress management.
Stress is a Natural Response to Threats
When your body identifies a potential threat it triggers a series of changes aimed at helping you deal with the danger. Changes include increased heart rate and breathing, increased blood pressure, muscle tensioning and the release of hormones into the brain to sharpen attention and senses. This is the so-called “fight or flight” response, which gives you the increased strength, energy and focus to either tackle the source of danger, or flee from it. This entire process in controlled by a primal part of the brain that has stayed the same throughout the course of human evolution.
When faced with a life-threatening situation, the stress response can save your life by giving you the extra burst of energy to escape or confront the danger. But these changes are not meant to be sustained long term and continuously high stress levels can have serious consequences for your health and wellbeing.
What Causes Stress?
Stress can be brought on by pressures, responsibilities and difficult situations in any area of your life. Worries about the future and the aftermath of traumatic events and bereavement can also cause high levels of stress.
One of the leading causes of stress in Australians is financial insecurity, affecting around half the population. Other common stress causes include pressures from work, concerns about health, dysfunctional family relationships and major life changes like job loss and moving home.
Long Term Effects of Stress
Stress management is a bigger deal than you might think. Long-term stress can affect your mind and body in a huge variety of ways, some of which might surprise you.
It’s immediately apparent that high blood pressure and increased heart rate can lead to problems in your heart and cardiovascular systems. Risk of artery damage, stroke and heart attack are all directly linked to stress levels. But stress can affect the body in other ways. Your immune system will begin to suffer, making you more susceptible to illness and infection. Weight gain, hair loss, high levels of fatigue and reduced sex drive can also be experienced.
Mentally, stress can make it hard to focus on the problems that caused it to begin with, impairing memory, attention and energy levels. Insomnia is a common side effect of stress, which further depletes your energy reserves and makes problems seem much harder to overcome. Stress can also reduce your mental discipline and make you more likely to indulge cravings like sugary foods, smoking or alcohol, compounding the health problems you experience even further.
Lastly, stress can have a marked impact on your mood and mental wellbeing. From increased anger and irritability to serious mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, stress can make you see the world in a much more negative way. As many as 90% of visits to GPs are brought on by stress-related problems.
Spotting the Signs
Identifying stress before it takes hold can help prevent the onset of the changes to your body and mind described above. Any of the following can be warning signs that your body is struggling to cope with the amount of strain it is under:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Inability to relax or switch off from worries
- Reduced energy
- Reduced sex drive
- More frequent illness
- Changes to your mood or behaviour
- Increased sweating
- Lower self-esteem and confidence
- Reduced ability to concentrate
7 Suggestions for Stress Management
- Cut Down on Alcohol, Caffeine & Nicotine
- Proper Relaxation
- Get it Out in the Open
- Adjust Your Thinking
- Treat the Cause
Whether stress at work is robbing you of your focus or an ever-growing to-do list is threatening to overwhelm your home life, our tips to reduce stress levels can help you manage your priorities, learn to relax properly and combat the side effects of stress before they really take hold. Here are our top 7 tips for how to deal and manage everyday stress.
The benefits of regular exercise on mind and body cannot be overstated. Exercise has a proven effect in reducing stress and improving mental wellbeing in a number of ways. Exercise releases endorphins into the brain, which act as natural painkillers and have an immediate effect on enhancing your mood and reducing feelings of pressure and stress.
In the long term exercise has been shown to be highly effective in fighting fatigue and improving alertness, concentration and attention. If your judgement has become clouded by stress and worry, exercise is the cure. A good 20 minute run or half an hour in the gym every day also works wonders for helping you sleep properly, therefore combating another unhelpful side effect of stress and reducing the strain that tiredness can bring.
Exercise also develops willpower- that ability to push through difficulty and chase after long term gain over short term satisfaction. This can have a huge impact on improving your threshold for feeling stress and your ability to cope with difficult situations.
2. Cut Down on Alcohol, Caffeine & Nicotine
A healthy diet and lifestyle will always improve your mood and help you feel fresher. Part of this is cutting down on stimulants like caffeine and nicotine. These affect your body in much the same way that stress does, producing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which give you a short term lift in energy but the resulting crash will make you particularly susceptible to stress. Stimulants can also interfere with your ability to sleep and relax.
Large quantities of alcohol are a bad idea in pretty much any circumstance, and doubly so when dealing with stress as alcohol’s depressive effect on the mind increases the risk of developing mental illnesses like depression.
3. Proper Relaxation
When there’s a mountain of worries and things that need doing the last thing you feel like doing is taking some time for yourself. But properly relaxing your body and mind will help you regain your focus and see your situation with clarity, as well as alleviating the feelings of fatigue and anxiety.
There are plenty of practices out there for deep relaxation, from yoga classes to meditation techniques you can learn online and practice wherever you are. Experiment with whatever works for you, and don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself in the midst of turmoil and stress.
Sometimes you may feel like you have too much to do for the simple reason that you have too much to do. Remember that stress serves a biological function- it’s the body’s way of preparing you for action. If your body and brain think you have bitten off more than you can chew, it might be time to listen.
Look at your work schedule and systematically go through every task, identifying what has to be done, what can wait and what can be cut out altogether. Be realistic with yourself and accept the fact that if there isn’t time in the day for everything the something has to go. And it shouldn’t be your sleep or relaxation time that get cut out- these are vital for healthy functioning!
Part of overcoming stress and avoiding it in the future is learning to identify when you are reaching your limit and saying no to new responsibilities. Telling your boss or your partner that you can’t take on anything new right now, or saying no to an extra meeting in favour of getting home on time once in a while isn’t something you should feel guilty about. If you’re spreading yourself too thin then your performance is going to suffer, so rein it back in and focus on doing fewer things, and doing them well.
5. Get it Out in the Open
Stress can feel like an ever-tightening knot in your stomach, or a spring that’s tightening and tightening, threatening to snap. Getting your worries out in the open by telling someone can go a huge way to releasing that pressure.
The simple act of telling a close friend that you are struggling can lift the weight off your shoulders, and an outside perspective can often give you insight into how things can change, as well as giving you much needed support and encouragement. Telling your superiors at work that you are under stress is not a sign of weakness- your boss likely has no idea that you’re not coping well with your work. Being honest about your stress can alert your colleagues to the fact that you’re taking on too much and may result in your responsibilities being shared out between others.
6. Adjust Your Thinking
Challenging circumstances are only as stressful as you perceive them to be. Altering the way you react to and think about your situation can go a long way to removing the effects of stress before they take hold.
Try to spot when you are thinking negatively or letting your worries run out of control. Make yourself think more positively. Tell yourself “I can do this” over and over until you believe it. And congratulate yourself when you do something well. Resist the urge to wallow in how awful your situation is and train yourself in the discipline of positivity.
7. Treat the Cause
Managing stress through healthy living and putting sensible expectations on yourself is a great start, but it can be a bit like cutting the leaves off a weed without removing the root. If the underlying causes of stress are still present then stress still has the potential to rear its head no matter how well adjusted you become.
Identifying and addressing the cause of your stress is the most sure fire way of removing its effects from your life. Consider whether any of the following factors are causing you excessive worry and sleepless nights:
If one of these issues or another core component of your life is causing you high levels of stress you need to take action. This might mean taking a hard look at your life and thinking about major changes you can make. Taking control of your finances through budgeting and money management or re-addressing your work-life balance by taking reduced hours are big steps that may hurt but will save you a great deal of difficulty in the long run.
If taking control of these issues alone isn’t working and you need a bit of expert help with managing stress, consider life coaching or counselling. A sympathetic external voice and some tried-and-tested psychological thought techniques can really help you see your life with new perspective and enable you to find the way out of the web of stress and pressure that’s keeping you trapped.
Managing stress and reducing your overall stress levels can help you meet the challenges of everyday life more effectively while saving you from a host of long-term health consequences. Relaxation, healthy living and putting realistic expectations on yourself will help you fight the symptoms of a stressed out mind, enabling you to treat the root cause of your stress more effectively.
Try our tips to reduce stress levels and see how they improve how you feel and act. If you still aren’t coping with stress, consider consulting your GP or seeking expert counselling.
When to Look for Professional Help to Manage Daily Life Stress!
If you have noticed symptoms of stress or high level of stress continuously interfering with you enjoying a healthy and happy life, we suggest you to consult with a stress professional. A mental health specialist, like a psychologist or counsellor can assist you identity the causes that are contributing to this condition. A psychologist can help you to make behaviors and life style changes that you can control easily and this will help you to manage your stress effectively. Talk to Angus Munro Psychology- our team of psychologists can help you in managing and treating your stress. We help people to live a better life! Start Living Better Today!