Stress

Unpleasant situations, such as pressure from work, problems with relationships, or financial difficulties can produce stress. However, pleasant situations, such as vacations, a new job, or getting married can also cause stress. Stress occurs with any change.

Although stress is natural, stress can create health problems when those events that cause stress are intense, repeated, or unpredictable. Stress can become most damaging when we feel that we lack the competency or ability to do something about a negative event.

Effects of Stress

Stress may trigger physical reactions, upsetting thoughts and emotions, and ineffective behaviour. When under stress, your body may react with shallow breathing, pounding heart, muscle tension, digestive problems, sleep disturbance, fatigue, or illness.

Upsetting thoughts and emotions may involve anger, fear, preoccupations, self-doubt, and worry. Ineffective behaviour may be shown by avoidance, indecision, aggression, and poor judgement. Each of these reactions may tend to make the others worse and so create a vicious cycle.

Physical Reactions

Much of the discomfort associated with stress is caused by the body’s natural tendency to energize in the presence of perceived “danger.” You can modify this response by practicing self-relaxation. Below are some steps that will help you learn to relax.

Think of relaxation as taking time out for yourself. Two session a day are recommended. Allow at least 10 minutes for each session. Let them go longer of you are enjoying yourself.

The best time for people to practice relaxation is in the morning and in the evening. This schedule lets you start the day refreshed and allows you to get rid of tension after school or work.

Find a place that is free of distraction. Unplug the phone. Seat your self in a comfortable position. Put your hands in your lap or at your sides. Arrange your legs in a manner that you will be able to maintain for an extended length of time. If you are able to maintain the same position every time you relax then your body will be able to relax more quickly. Concentrate on a very simple fixed pattern of thought or action. Most people focus on their breathing.

An easy exercise is to breathe in and out three times while imagining that your stomach is like a balloon. As you breathe in, you are filling up the balloon and, as you breathe out, you are forcing air out of the balloon. Then breathe in and out ten 10 times as you normally do. Repeat these two steps at least five times.

Another easy technique is to imagine that as you are breathing in, you are inhaling relaxation. And as you breathe out, imagine that you are letting relaxation flow through your body. 

After a week or so of practicing either of these techniques, you should find it easy to reach a state of relaxation quickly.

Ineffective Behaviour

There are many aspects of satisfying life --- work, family, friends, hobbies, recreation, and community activities. Damaging stress may occur when we let one aspect get blown out of proportion, particularly work.

Think of your goals in life. Is it quality or quantity? Try to strike a balance between challenging stress and relaxation. Remember when you are doing nothing, you are doing something important for yourself. Take time for yourself.

Most of us set unrealistic and perfectionistic goals. No one can be perfect. If you expect perfection from yourself you may begin to feel inadequate no matter how well you have performed. It is important to set gradual, achievable goals for yourself. Set realistic limits on what you may try to do on any given day. Learn to say no to added demands and responsibilities, if possible. Try to promise less and deliver more instead of promising too much and always falling short.

Upsetting Thoughts and Emotions

Stress can be influenced by how we view events. Physical symptoms and a tendency to make poor decisions are increased by negative thoughts.

Learn to identify and monitor negative thoughts. Then use coping or positive statements to block or balance negative thoughts when you are in a stressful situation. For example, some negative self-statements could be “I can’t do this. I am stupid. It will never get better.” In order to counteract these negative thoughts, some positive self-statements might be “Take it step by step. Nobody is perfect. I will do the best I can.” 

This is not to deny that negative thoughts sometimes reflect the way we are feeling. It is important, however, to recognize thoughts that are based on fact from thoughts that are based on fear, other irrational beliefs, or how we will be perceived by others.

I hope you find this information and techniques useful in reducing some of the negative effects of stress. If you would like more information on coping with stress please contact me.

Here is a very good resource for MP3 relaxation exercises.

1. http://www.fammed.wisc.edu/our-department/media/mindfulness

2. http://marc.ucla.edu/body.cfm?id=22

Or try this iTunes app: Sleep Easily

© Robert Schnurr 2012