Stress Management: 10 Practical Steps
Gwen Nyhus Stewart
The World Health Organization calls stress "the health epidemic
of the 21st century." Stress resulting in illness is the causative
factor underlying more than 70% of all visits to the family
doctor, medical doctors suggest. What is stress? We all talk
about it but what does 'stress' mean and how does it affect
Dr. Hans Selye, who first noted and described the concept
of stress, defines stress as "the non-specific response of
the body to any demand made upon it." Stress is neither good
nor bad. The effect of the stress is not determined by the
stress itself, rather it is determined by how we handle the
Effects of Stress
1. "Emergency Response" The emergency response mechanism
activates with a physiological change when people believe
they are in physical or mortal danger. Pupils dilate, blood
pressure increases, and the production of stress hormones
increase. The body prepares within seconds to respond, which
is known as the 'fight or flight' syndrome. The adrenal glands
pour out adrenaline and the production of other hormones is
increased by the quickly reacting pituitary-adrenal-cortical
system of the brain.
This is a healthy, adaptive response to immediate danger but
if continually activated, this emergency response may cause
a constantly higher-than-normal level of hormone production
that can eventually cause physical wear-and-tear on the body.
Health problems related to this constant high level of response
include hypertension, headaches, ulcers, heart disease, and
increased vulnerability to diabetes and colitis.
2. "General Adaptation Syndrome" In studies, Selye came to
believe that diseases of adaptation such as hypertension could
be produced by abnormal or excessive reaction to stress. The
body would increase its supply of hormones in order to be
ready for action to stress. Over a prolonged period of time,
excessive stress leads to distress and the accompanying physical,
emotional, mental, and spiritual health problems.
Contributing factors to distress include a) your attitude
to life and b) your mood (optimistic or pessimistic). Both
help to create the atmosphere that assists your defence system
in repairing small wounds, bruises, and infections. This is
also the system that tries to destroy strange cells such as
those of cancer, including leukaemia.
In mastering stress, you have to figure out what you are doing
that contributes to your problem/challenge and change it.
The four categories of change include: change your behaviour,
change your thinking, change your lifestyle choices, and/or
change the situations you are in. Symptoms of overstress include
fatigue, aches and pains, anxiety, problems sleeping, depression,
and lack of joy in your life.
Practical Steps to Stress Management and Creating Balance
1. Make your life regular like 'clock work.' Go to bed and
get up at the same time each day.
2. Give yourself a break today.
3. Say 'No' more often when other people want your time. This
includes social engagements, the family dinner on Christmas,
4. Postpone making any changes in your living environment
if you have been coping with undue stress. Change of any kind
is stressful and limiting it until later is a good strategy
if you are under a lot of pressure.
5. Reduce the number of hours you spend at work or school.
If you are a work-a-holic or school-a-holic you need to reduce
the energy drain on your body. TAKE SOME TIME OFF.
6. Nutritional eating habits and eating small meals helps
to keep your blood sugar stabilised. Many people reach for
something high in sugar content when feeling stressed which
compounds the problem. Eat more vegetables.
7. Rest your mind, as mind activities alleviate stress. These
mind activities include reading, working on a craft, listening
to music, playing a musical instrument, meditation, self-relaxation,
dancing, and biofeedback.
8. Have a worry time if you must worry. When you find yourself
worrying over a problem, set aside a time (I suggest to my
students 7:30pm on Tuesday night) and then put off worrying
until that time. Chances are you will not even remember what
you were stressing yourself about.
9. Book time for yourself. In your daily or weekly schedule
book time first for yourself and then the other activities
you are involved in. Don't let anything, except an emergency,
usurp your commitment to yourself.
10. Have a massage or another form of self-care activity.
Gwen Nyhus Stewart © 2004 – 2005. All rights reserved.
Gwen Nyhus Stewart, B.S.W., M.G., H.T., is an educator,
freelance writer, garden consultant, and author of the book
The Healing Garden: A Place Of Peace -- Gardening For The
Soil, Gardening For The Soul. She owns the website Gwen’s
Healing Garden where you will find lots of free information
about gardening for the soil and gardening for the soul. To
find out more about the book and subscribe to her free Newsletter
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