Everyone needs a certain amount of stress in order to live well. It’s what gets you out of bed in the morning and gives you the vitality and zest to do all sorts of things, such as sport and presentations.
Stress becomes a problem (‘distress’) when there’s too much or too little. A lack of stress means your body is understimulated, leaving you feeling bored and isolated. In an effort to find stimulation, many people do things which are harmful to themselves (such as taking drugs) or society (for instance, committing a crime).
Too much stress, on the other hand, can result in a range of health problems including headaches, stomach upsets, high blood pressure and even stroke or heart disease. It can also cause feelings of distrust, anger, anxiety and fear, which in turn can destroy relationships at home and at work.
People often feel over-stressed as a result of some event, or trigger. This doesn’t necessarily have to be negative (such as the death of a loved one, redundancy or divorce); it can also be seemingly positive (a new partner, new job or going on holiday). Such feelings can also be acute (as the result of a death or loss of a job) or chronic (coping with long-term unemployment or being in a bad relationship).
In order to cope with their stress, many people look to things which are not only ineffective but also unhealthy. Negative stress-management techniques include:
Instead of these harmful techniques, why not try one of the following:
- drinking alcohol (it changes your mood, not your problem)
- denying the problem (the problem will remain)
- taking drugs (including stimulants such as caffeine or pain medication)
- overeating (binge-eating, poor diets)
- smoking cigarettes
Ask most women what makes them stressed and they’ll tell you it’s not having enough hours in the day. Time is today’s most valuable commodity. We all juggle choices, anxious to please family, workmates and friends – all of whom expect absolute attention to their priorities. But what are your own priorities? What goals do you want to achieve – and what’s most important to you? Try these tips to help you sort them out:
Determine your mission
- Take a nap – 30 to 40 minutes’ downtime will recharge your batteries.
- Get a massage – either visit a professional massage therapist or ask a friend or partner to give you an impromptu neck and shoulder rub.
- Express yourself artistically – divert your energies into something creative, such as acting, playing an instrument, writing poetry or singing.
- Have a laugh – not only will it make you feel better, it will make you look better too. Practise always having a smile on your face.
- Be gentle to yourself – we talk to ourselves all the time, even though we’re not aware of it. This ‘self-talk’ determines our attitudes and self-image, so try to change both with a bit of positive chatter. Positive self-talk also promotes favourable body chemistry as it activates the parasympathetic nervous system and causes relaxation. Try these simple positive affirmations.
Understand where you spend your time
– set aside time to think deeply and write about your life and goals. Writing such a ‘mission statement’ is a good way to firm up your opinions about what’s essential to you in life: what you’d like to be and what you’d like to accomplish. Write to inspire yourself, not to impress others.
Review your roles
– yes, it’s list-making time. Think how you could best prioritise and itemise the many pressures of your life. Can you categorise your life in neat ‘important’, ‘quite important’ and ‘unimportant’ boxes? Or would a more complex chart suit your life: ‘urgent and important’, ‘important but not urgent’, ‘urgent but not important’ and ‘neither urgent nor important’ perhaps? Think about your life with clarity and the priorities will clarify themselves. And try not to trivialise quiet times, sleep and other (seemingly) unproductive moments – they’re essential for your health.
– like actors, we play many parts. A clear set of roles will help you create order and balance in your life. Your roles grow out of and contribute to the fulfilment of your personal mission.
Organise your week
– now it’s time to apply your insight to the next seven days. Begin by identifying a goal for the coming week in each role. These goals don’t necessarily have to be an activity; they can be as simple as determining an area on which you want to concentrate, such as being more patient with your children. Limit yourself – two goals for each role should be achievable.
Evaluate your week
– using a week-at-a-glance diary or drawing up your own chart, plan the week ahead. Don’t feel that your can’t deviate from this, however. If you plan an activity and something prevents you from completing it, just adjust your schedule and try to fit it in elsewhere. If you can’t do this without compromising your other priorities, make it the first thing you plan for next week.
– at the end of the first week, take a realistic look at how it went. Where were the big successes? And which scheduling details were less successful? Learn from the last seven days and identify turning points, those times when you consciously decided to prioritise one activity over another. Do your goals need revision?
– no schedule absolutely positively guarantees instant success, but remember that you’re in control. Set aside time every week to re-evaluate your goals and roles, so you can close the gap between what’s most important to you and how you spend your time. Spending 30 minutes in this way will reap immediate benefits – inner peace, a balanced life and increased productivity. Finally, celebrate your successes.
This article was last medically reviewed by Dr Trisha Macnair in August 2005.
First published in November 1997.
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Therapist to discuss stress, anxiety (The Altoona Herald-Mitchellville Index) – Shane VerSteeg, therapist from Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, will speak on stress and anxiety at a depression support group. The session will be 10 a.m. to noon Sept. 6 in Room 214 at Lutheran Church of Hope, 925 Jordan Creek Parkway, West Des Moines.
Stress, Anxiety Can Make Allergy Attacks Even More Miserable, Last Longer (Kansas City InfoZine) – A new study here shows that even slight stress and anxiety can substantially worsen a person’s allergic reaction to some routine allergens.
Mums-To-Be-Warned Over Stress (SkyNews via Yahoo! UK & Ireland News) – Women who are subjected to severe stress during pregnancy risk giving birth to children who develop schizophrenia, a study suggests.
Pregnant women with severe stress more likely to have schizophrenic kids (New Kerala) – Washington, Aug 21 : A new study has found that pregnant women who endure the psychological stress of being in a war zone are more likely to give birth to a child who develops schizophrenia.
Mating anxiety, bacteria likely killed Lake Zurich carp (Chicago Tribune) – Heightened activity of mating may have made the fish more vulnerable to the ailment Mystery solved.
Stress During Pregnancy May Predispose Schizophrenia (Psych Central) – A new study discovered pregnant women who endure the psychological stress of being in a war zone are more likely to give birth to a child who develops schizophrenia. The research supports a growing body of literature that attributes maternal exposure to severe stress during the early months of pregnancy to an increased […]
Severe, acute maternal stress linked to the development of schizophrenia (PhysOrg) – Pregnant women who endure the psychological stress of being in a war zone are more likely to give birth to a child who develops schizophrenia. Research published today in the open access journal BMC Psychiatry supports a growing body of literature that attributes maternal exposure to severe stress during the early months of pregnancy to an increased susceptibility to schizophrenia in the …
Mum’s stress linked to schizophrenia (Adelaide Now) – WOMEN who suffer extreme stress in the early stages of pregnancy are more likely to give birth to children who develop schizophrenia, a major international study shows.
Acute Maternal Stress During Pregnancy Linked To Development Of Schizophrenia (Science Daily) – Pregnant women who endure the psychological stress of being in a war zone are more likely to give birth to a child who develops schizophrenia. Research published in the open access journal BMC Psychiatry supports a growing body of literature that attributes maternal exposure to severe stress during the early months of pregnancy to an increased susceptibility to schizophrenia in the offspring.
Acute maternal stress during pregnancy linked to development of schizophrenia (EurekAlert!) – ( NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine ) Pregnant women who endure the psychological stress of being in a war zone are more likely to give birth to a child who develops schizophrenia. Research published in the open access journal BMC Psychiatry supports a growing body of literature that attributes maternal exposure to severe stress during the early months of …
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