Stress is a part of modern life. Some of us struggle with ongoing anxiety, while others battle with strong emotions and the pressures of daily life. Very few of us have not experienced the negative effects that stress can have on us or our loved ones.

Whether you experience stress for a fleeting moment or for a longer duration, if you don’t manage and deal with it, it can have detrimental effects on your life and eventually your mental health.

Luckily, we can learn how to better control stress through the application of successful stress management strategies. This article unpacks stress, the effects it has on us and what we can do to better manage and control the effects it has on our lives.

Check out this article on tips to prevent and relieve stress here on Superprof.

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What is Stress?

Stress is a normal, human reaction that signals danger and initiates change in us. These physical, emotional or intellectual responses to a perceived threat will thus create a life-saving ‘fight-or-flight’ response or force us to take action to change things that cause us pain or damage. If stress is managed well you can thus use it to become a stronger person and rise above circumstances.

Stress = when when we feel overwhelmed due to emotional pressure and strain.

Our relationship with stress and how we manage it is however quite a complicated one. Various levels of stress can have different effects on our bodies and too much of it can affect on our mental, emotional and/or physical health.

There are three basic types of stress:

  1. Acute Stress – Short-term stress that allows the body and mind to reactively respond before returning to normal. It can also be associated with an adrenaline rush or something we enjoy doing like competing in a race.
  2. Episodic Acute Stress – Repeated acute stress is something like repeatedly having to face deadlines at work. This type of stress makes one feel like they are moving from one crisis to the next.
  3. Chronic Stress – Ongoing stress for longer periods where people feel they cannot change a situation.

Conditions of chronic stress are often associated with high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, asthma, depression and anxiety. It is chronic stress that eventually impacts our health and luckily it is possible to reduce and minimise the effects of stress once you start to apply stress management work on a frequent basis.

Stress Impacts Your Mental Health

Stress is certainly not a mental disorder or problem, but significant stress for long periods can impact how people see and experience their current problems. Everything seems more terrifying and anxiety or depression creeps in much easier if chronic stress is left untreated.

Emotional Impact of Stress

More stress will probably lead to you being more moody, irritated and less prone to tackle the things you enjoy with vigour. We feel like we’re losing control when stress becomes too much and find it hard to relax. The range of emotions one can experience during a stressful period depends on their background, personality and current life situation, but stress can lead to massive emotional outbursts and breakdowns if not managed properly.

The Physical Impact of Stress

Stress will fire up various systems in your body to get the ‘fight-or-flight’ response going. Hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are released to physically prepare the body, but too much of it can make people feel unwell and affect their health in the long run.

Chronic stress weakens our immune system, negatively impacts sleep and slows down our metabolism. Headaches, constant fatigue and an upset stomach are some of the first physical signs of stress impacting the body.

See how to apply stress management tips at work here on Superprof.

Stress could wind up with you needing medical treatment.
Untreated stress is often the cause of heart-related diseases. Photo on Visual hunt

The Good News

Stress management is when we decide to tackle our stress and manage it as best we can. It’s a process where you will apply techniques or therapies to your life to optimise your energy and reduce stress levels throughout daily life.

Managing stress and finding the balance between healthy and unhealthy levels of stress is an important life skill.

It can make you perform better when you need to succeed and you will know when to turn down the dial when things are becoming too stressful intense. Unfortunately, most people only realise they have to manage their stress when they are already run-down, stressed-out and heading for an emotional breakdown.

You will have to become mindful of your own life and the stressors in them if you want to manage your stress better. Firstly try and identify the stressors by realising how certain situations make you feel as it will help you to address them. There are some common signs associated with stress and many online tools or stress calculators can help you assess your overall stress levels.

Ask yourself whether you experience the following common signs of stress:

  • Abnormal sleeping patterns
  • Feeling worried a lot of times
  • Struggling to concentrate or focus on a single task
  • ‘Ordinary’ things might feel overwhelming
  • You feel irritable and might be easily angered
  • You struggle to relax
  • More frequently you feel down or depressed
  • You have less confidence and a lower opinion of yourself
  • Your eating patterns and appetite changed
  • You drink or smoke more to relax
  • A loss of libido
  • At stages you feel dizzy, nauseous or experience headaches
  • You feel physically tense
  • Experience unexplained diarrhoea or constipation

We all react differently to stress, so these are certainly not the only effect stress can have on you. If you notice you have a few of the above symptoms for an extended period, we recommend you speak to your GP as part of your investigation process.

Make time to learn about yourself and to find ways to improve your self-care. And always reach out and ask for guidance or help if you are unsure; there are plenty of caring, compassionate people and resources to help you along the way.

Below are some of the most common, daily things you can do to help you minimise the impact of stress.

Are you stressed?
Scientists say that spending time outdoors can reduce stress. Photo on Visual hunt

8 Tips to Destress

1. Follow A Balanced Diet

Food is fuel for the body and mind. A healthy and balanced diet will not only make you feel better, it will aid your body with recovery through stressful periods and fight symptoms of oncoming stress. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables daily, fill-up with the right vitamins and ensure you drink enough water.

2. Lay off the Alcohol and Smoking

Smoking or drinking can help some to immediately overcome a stressful period or minimise the effect it has on their nerves. It has been proven however that stress levels return slightly higher than before its consumption and in the long run you are left in a more stressful state. Cut down if you cannot stop and see if you can find healthy alternatives.

3. Exercise Frequently

Scientists and doctors will confirm that frequent exercise is probably one of the best stress antidotes. If you aren’t sporty, a yoga session or brisk walk could also improve your health and alleviate stress.

4. Practise Mindfulness

Developing awareness around yourself and how you manage your thoughts is the best gift you can give yourself. This way you can become more mindful and stop negative effects and thoughts in your life as soon as you notice them.

5. Try to Meditate

Meditation is a useful technique to induce a state of relaxation and tranquillity in your mind. It can be practiced anywhere and will untangle all the jumbled thoughts in our minds that often cause us to stress. Newcomers might find it tricky, so be sure you research meditation enough, go to a yoga class, watch videos on it or do a course on meditation. It’s something that will benefit you the rest of your life.

6. Create Space and Take a Break

Work-life balance is incredibly important for ongoing mental and physical health. If work is stressing you out you need to find ways to break free from it. This can either be a day off for self-love, or just taking a tea break more often to be for 5 minutes in the sun and out of the office. The secret is finding moments in your daily life to nourish something you enjoy and take your mind off that which causes your stress.

7. Get Good Rest and Sleep

Your body recovers and balances everything out during sleep. It is therefore important to get a good night’s rest and develop habits that will make you sleep better. Taking a warm bath, playing calming music and not eating or using your phone before bed has all been proven to help people sleep better.   

8. Positive Self-Communication and Compassion

You have to learn to become your own and best friend and support during tough times. Don’t beat yourself up, we are all human and it is perfectly fine and normal to go through a tough time. Try to remain positive, but practical and objective about the problems you are facing and be sure you view a stressful situation from all angles.

Check out this article on managing stress here on Superprof.

Do you eat enough vitamins and nutrients?
A healthy diet and regular exercises is essential in warding off the impacts of stress on our bodies. Photo credit: Theo Crazzolara on Visualhunt.com / CC BY

Management Strategies for Stress

Understanding your stress will help you in finding ways to dissolve it’s impact. Most of the activities above can also be classified as strategies if you start to apply them frequently to address your stress. There are however some additional powerful tools that can help you with your mindset and management of the stress itself.

Start Journalling

Writing down your thoughts will help to declutter all the thousands of things you think about when you are stressed. This can bring a bit more clarity and when we read back our own thoughts we start to notice patterns and shortcomings. Journalling can help you get new perspective and you can also vent your frustrations in a safe and trusting way.

Focus on What You Can Control

You cannot control loadshedding, but you can control how you react towards it. Having no electricity will certainly place stress on you, but it is there, whether you gracefully reorganise your life around it or complain, get upset and unhappy about it. You can control your attitude which can make an uncontrollable situation a bit more bearable.

Learn to release the things you cannot control

Connect with Your Friends and Community

You might want to isolate yourself, but spending time with people you love and whose company you enjoy, could help you relax and might just help you feel a bit better. You might also get the chance to discuss some of your stress triggers with someone who cares about you.

Don’t let stress get the better of you. Adopt a self-care programme and use these techniques to ensure you remain happy and balanced.

Check out this article on stress management strategy here on Superprof.

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Mauritz

Writer and qualified yoga instructor, who is passionate about health and well-being.