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Psychological Advice For Managing Stress – 10 Tips

Posted on the 07 November 2011 by Combi31 @combi31

Psychological Advice For Managing Stress – 10 Tips

Stress is a common part of life.

As the world we live in becomes smaller, faster and more demanding the simple joys of life become more precious and fleeting. Most of us cope, and get past each situation as it comes our way. For some, the stresses and demands build up and become so large we begin to wobble under their sheer weight.

When our coping resources can’t manage anymore, we feel acute stress and anxiety. If left unacknowledged, a host of problems come along. These may take a toll on our health, or lead to behaviors that are risky and even life-limiting.

We face stressful circumstances on a regular basis. For some this is a daily occurrence. Stress may come in the form of change, such as beginning school or bringing a new baby into the home. We might also feel stress for physical reasons, such as menstruation, or having sleeping on a lumpy mattress. We face stress at work – perhaps due to factors such as a noisy work environment, impending deadlines or crowded trains to and from the office. Then there is stress located in the social world – for example, how a person feels on a first date, or when we feel anxious making interesting conversation at a party. Even seemingly harmless situations may cause stress, such as vacations, a change in sleeping or diet, and family get-togethers.

Stress has been implicated in a wide range of illnesses, from physical disease to behavioral, emotional and cognitive problems.

Stress changes our behavior

Increases in alcohol, smoking and caffeine use are amongst the most common responses to stress. Stress can often lead to overeating and weight gain. It’s always difficult to make causal statements in this area – for example, does stress cause these changes in our behaviour, or does the research just highlight people who behave in unhealthy ways, and in so doing experience stress (or are in some way more predisposed to it) ? Whatever the link, there is certainly an association. If we rely on personal experience rather than science, we know for ourselves that when we are most stressed and anxious, we reach for things that either dampen our stress or give us some degree of comfort. Unfortunately, cream cakes or an extra pint give only temporary relief – the problems that are causing our stress will still remain after we have indulged in these ways, and we may be less empowered or alert to meet the challenges before us.

Stress makes us emotionally unwell

Sustained stress has been linked to depression. It can affect our ability to sleep, or feel rested when we wake in the morning. We may begin to lose enjoyment in the hobbies and interests we once enjoyed. We may start to feel at odds with our partner or children, because minor disagreements begin to feel like major battles. Feeling sluggish, distant and anxious has to take it’s toll on our mood state eventually – after all, who likes to feel this way ?

Daily hassles (such as traffic jams or household chores) have a more dramatic effect on someone who is already feeling stressed. This becomes a self-perpetuating cycle of irritability and frustration – rather than reducing stress or making us feel better, this cycle just creates more problems. In so doing, a deeper depression and hopelessness can begin to set in.

Stress makes us physically sick

It’s known that victims of heart attack have been found to report higher numbers of stressful incidents in the 6 months prior to the attack, than their healthy counterparts. Increases in occupational stress (e.g. as a result of increases in work load, responsibility or job dissatisfaction) have been linked to an increased incidence of coronary heart disease. Furthermore, longitudinal studies have shown that the level of self-reported stress levels are a good predictor of coronary heart disease in the future.

How might stress have such a link with heart disease ? One explanation lies in the finding that high levels of stress seem to cause excessive arousal of the Endocrine system, and lead to Atherosclerosis (a narrowing of the arteries). This stress response increases blood pressure, and causes Hypertension. Together, atherosclerosis and hypertension are the most common cause of heart failure. If we accept that stress can also increase our caffeine intake and smoking behaviour, we know that such a lifestyle is not good for the heart.

There is even some evidence to suggest that more stressful lifestyles precede the development of cancer. Studies have measured stress levels in initially healthy individuals, and over a long period of time, those reporting greater stress in their life have been more likely candidates for the development of cancer. Again, the explanation may lie in the physiological response to stress, or the unhealthy lifestyle that chronic stress can create and maintain. From a physiological point of view, the mechanisms thought to be at work once again involve excessive arousal of the Endocrine system. This is thought to have a depressive effect on the immune response, which has in turn been associated with conditions such as breast cancer.

In recent studies, measures of psychological state and social problems (psychosocial data) have been considered accurate predictors of mortality and cause of death over 14 years ahead ! More highly stressed individuals are thought to have upto a 40% higher death rate than their lower stressed counterparts. The idea that stress will lead to an early grave is not to be taken lightly.

It’s all in the mind ?

All individuals face potentially stressful experiences during their lives. However, the impact of similar stressors does not have a similar effect upon all individuals. Some people have terrible lives – they face deprivation and abuse, but somehow manage to survive and lead outwardly fulfilling lives. Others have relatively more comforts and support networks, and no obvious reason to become depressed or chronically ill on account of their circumstances. Furthermore, in the same situation, two individuals do not necessarily experience the same stress. It would seem therefore that to some extent, stress is ‘all in the mind’.

Research suggests that an enhanced ‘hardiness’ of character of an individual is the changing factor. This hardiness may take the form of a stronger commitment to self, an attitude of vigorousness toward the environment, and a belief that ‘I am in control’ of the events in my experience (psychologically termed a sense of self-efficacy and self-esteem).

If we have a certain mind-set or approach to life, we are more likely to become stressed over relatively small incidents and events. This mind-set is characterized by the tendency to compete heavily with others, or take a self-critical stance. It manifests in the form of racing against time and others, and becoming easily aroused or angered. It’s an attitude that tells us we are not good enough, and need to be better than others to be happy or successful. It’s a way of thinking that leads us to overlook or be dissatisfied with what we have, and yearn for that which is yet to be acquired. It is a case of constantly living in negative equity, and being burdened with emotional debt. When small storms come our way, this mind-set easily throws us off-balance, and we feel stress in all it’s forms.

How to manage stress

Certain events, situations and circumstances are inherently stress provoking, but the internal resources of an individual can help.The stress response is a balance between our perception of a demanding situation and our perceived ability to cope with it. If we appraise stressful situations to be within our resources to cope, we are less likely to feel stress. This points towards a strong sense of self-belief and self-esteem. It also suggests a positive attitude to life. But how do we develop this ?

Of course, our childhood is very important in this regard. The messages we have heard repeated by our parents, peers and teachers over the years easily become our own internal narrative or story. What others think of us, becomes our own thinking about ourselves. Loving, empowering and accepting messages help us feel good about ourselves, and by extension about our abilities and skills. Such positive experiences of growing up help us to take greater risks, and in so doing we develop greater confidence. A positive developmental cycle is created and maintained. Unfortunately, not all of us are lucky enough to have such good upbringings. At worst, we are constantly criticized, to the extent that we develop an internal bully, who keeps criticising us long after these negative messages were first received.

If stress seems to be a recurrent problem for you, and it is having a negative effect on your enjoyment of life and physical health, you may need to seek help. Here are some ideas for you to consider:1

. In cases of financial stress or debt problems, do not bury your head in the sand ! Talk to your bank early, and anyone else that has loaned you money, and expects regular repayments. This would include companies expecting you to pay utility bills. You may benefit from seeing a debt counselor, through organizations like the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, who can lead you through this process.

2. It can also be helpful to talk with people you trust about aspects of your life that are creating the most unhappiness for you, financially or otherwise. For example, you may be struggling with an unfulfilling or neglectful relationship with your partner, which needs to change. Perhaps your work-play balance is way off the mark, taking the zest out of you. You may need to be encouraged by someone dear to you, to make some changes. Sometimes, a listening ear can be enough to help you bring personal problems into focus, and then feel encouraged to work on them.

3. Regular and planned vacations can be a release, but you need to guard against this becoming a form of escapism from troubles – are you running away from problems that need you to be more present in order to resolve them ? On the other hand, are you making a planned decision to recuperate and relax, with the intention of finding solutions when you return ? It can be expensive to plan big holidays, so you may wish to consider small breaks, more often. A long weekend once every a month can be great, even if it’s just spending time pottering around at home or in the garden.

4. Regular exercise and changes in the usual routine are also good antidotes for stress. Try a new class at your local gym or community center – perhaps some yoga, pilates or tai-chi. Alternatively, try joining a club which involves doing things that you were once interested in, but have fallen by the wayside as you have become busier. Evening classes can also be a good change from the norm, but do guard against taking on more work !

5. For some people, there is support to be found in religion or spirituality. Visiting the local church, temple or synagogue can be a very easy and welcoming way to build a new support network, and develop a fresh attitude to life and living. Faith can build hope and perseverance, especially at times of hopelessness and despair.

6. Highstreet shops and health stores stock a range of relaxation and meditation tapes, which can be played before you sleep at night or whilst you take a slow bath. Techniques such as Progressive Muscle Relaxation and Self-Hypnosis training can be accessed through such audio recordings, with good results.

7. Alternatively, you may wish to pick up a book from your local library or bookshop, on matters of time management, organizational skills or developing a more positive attitude. There are volumes of very interesting and engaging books on these topics, available for you to access. If you don’t have time to read, why not pick up an audio tape ? Sue Jefferson’s ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’ is a good starting point.

8. In more pronounced cases of stress, it may be advisable to consult your GP. He or she may offer professional advice on matters of diet, lifestyle and health related consequences of chronic stress. A sick note might give you some respite from work, and an opportunity to gather your resources before making changes. A visit to the GP may also form the beginning of a more specialist assessment for anxiety or depression. Most GP surgeries employ counselors on site, so that talking therapy can be accessed without a long waiting time.

9. In more severe cases of stress, a referral to the local mental health service may be warranted. This can lead to a range of specialized talking therapies (and medication if required), to problem solve the stressful situations in your life. At a more fundamental level, psychotherapy can get individuals in touch with how they approach life, and why this might be so. It can help them relearn more helpful messages and self-narratives, so that self-esteem and self-efficacy can be enhanced. By building such internal resources, you are more likely to be able to cope with difficult circumstances now and in the future, so this can be a long lasting solution to stress related problems.

10. If things feel hopeless, don’t try to cope alone.

The Samaritans run 24 hour helplines, and can guide you through how you feel. Chronic stress is usually a sign that something is not right in your life, and you could see it as an opportunity for important changes to be made.

Psychological Advice For Managing Stress – 10 Tips

Author: Dr Bobby Sura Article Source:

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