We may all experience stress! It’s a normal response to the good and bad challenges we face in our daily lives. We must juggle life’s competing priorities to do with work, family, friends or study. Some of these priorities may be within our control and some may fall outside our control.
So, are you the type of person who manages to push through stress and maintain your momentum for life? Or, are you a stress muffin? Someone who is challenged by this Dream Breaker and finds the symptoms difficult to cope with and manage! How you manage stress may be crucial in terms of the impact it can have on your overall health and wellbeing. Marney Perna, author of Creating Calm Amid Chaos states, “you can’t live with too much of it and you can’t live without it.” (5) Whatever side you find yourself, stress may be in your life. It may be important to recognise and understand it, so you can do something about it and move forward in your life.
If you are stressed then typically you may experience a number of symptoms that are not normal for you. LIFELINE suggests that stress can be felt in a number of different ways including; physically, mentally, emotionally or behaviourally. (6) Some of these signs may manifest in our lives as:
Stress may be temporary and affects each of us in very different ways. If you are not careful it can easily send you into the bottom half of the rainbow. But it could be suggested that how you manage stress is influenced by whether you internalise or externalise your stress.
If you know an extrovert then you may recognise when they are stressed. In fact, the whole world may know! They may externalise their stress and give it a voice. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s may be how they cope with and release their stress. They may well be bouncing around being very animated, a tad challenging to deal with. The important thing for them personally is, it’s their outlet to relieve how they’re feeling. They may also be talking about the fact they’re stressed, which is a good thing.
On the other hand, an introvert may not be screaming from the rooftops. From the outside they may appear calm, quiet and unassuming. Giving the appearance that all is well in their world. But on the inside, there may be a huge thunderstorm raging. They could be internalising their stress, hiding it from view and this coping mechanism may be harmful to their health.
I’ve recognised that I internalise my stress. In part, I believe this internalisation is historically fuelled by my unconscious decision to suppress my sexuality. It’s how I coped with the battle raging on inside me. Even after coming out, this way of coping with stress appeared to work well for me. That was until my life took a threatening turn in 2017.
I struggled to recover from a heavy cold and get back in to regular fitness. I found I was getting minor chest pains when I tried to jog. The pains would go away as soon as I stopped jogging. I naively thought they were just a symptom of my cold. I actually felt fine other than when jogging.
So, I half-heartedly booked a doctor’s appointment. I’m very glad I did! Soon, the doctor had me in an Ambulance. That was the beginning of a very surreal 48 hours. I was admitted to hospital, had an exploratory angiogram and came out from that procedure with two stents inserted in my heart. One of my arteries was blocked 95% and the other 80%. I was not very far off a heart attack that could so very easily have taken my life.
Some suggest stress can be the silent killer. Many people don’t realise they have heart disease until it’s too late. So, I can’t stress (forgive the pun here!!) enough the importance of going to your doctor if you have any concerns. However trivial you may think they are!
My historic poor management of stress resulted in my chronic heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. I went through a long period of my life being physically inactive, overweight and I yo-yo dieted. So, it could be argued that I am proof we all need to manage our stress to maintain a healthy well-balanced life. So lets look at ways to better manage our stress.
1. Don’t bottle up stress!
Let it out! Give it a voice! Talk to someone if you need to. There’s no shame in seeking help whether that’s with a family member, friend, work colleague or professionally. You may be glad you did! reachout.com, a youth mental health service suggests; ‘If you or someone you know is going through a tough time, talking to someone might sound like a simplistic solution but it really is one of the best possible things you/they can do’. (7)
2. Get some alone time!
Mindfulness and meditation are great tools to build resilience to the immense amount of information that bombards our brains. Mindfulness is as simple as acknowledging that “where attention goes, energy flows” and helps shift us from chaos to calm. Australasian Sustainability & Wellness Academy founder, Angela Derks suggests introducing 1 minute of mindfulness to your day and eventually building up to 20 minutes a day to help you perform at your best in your life and workplace. (8)
3. Get a good night’s sleep!
Is there anything worse than a disturbed night’s sleep? We all know that sleep is part of our biology; we are simply built to need it. Yet nearly a third of the population reports that they experience regular disruptions or issues with their sleep; says Angela Derks. She suggests good restorative sleep is vital to your health and wellness. The simple act of improving our sleep quality on its own can help us shift from chaos to calm. Sleep is that powerful! Sleep gives the body time to recuperate, repair and detoxify. It also gives the brain a chance to process the activities of the day and plays a role in memory function. (8)
4. Connect with an activity for the mind
Keep your mind alert and de-stressed by giving yourself a short mental holiday from the things that stress you. Release your mind in yoga, Pilates or perhaps a massage. You may clear your head in the outdoors bushwalking or take a stroll in a park. Distract your mind in a crossword or reading. Relax and laugh with family and friends or consider being part of a community group. Whatever it takes to make you feel relaxed do not underestimate the importance of giving your mind a break.
5. Exercise regularly
Exercising regularly and exerting yourself may help you to feel good mentally and physically. It boosts energy and helps to bring clarity of mind. Mayo Clinic staff state “exercise in almost any form can act as a stress reliever. Being active can boost your feel-good endorphins and distract you from daily worries.” (9) I walk every day and aim for a minimum of 10,000 steps. It’s usually a brisk early morning walk along the Brisbane River. Fresh air, heart pumping and I feel so very glad to be alive.
6. We are what we eat
Maintain a healthy weight and eat a nutritional well-balanced diet by making conscious decisions about what we put in our mouths. Whatever you eat make sure it will benefit your overall health and wellness. Holly Pevzner author from eatingwell.com suggests that some foods in our diet can help to reduce stress. She advises that spinach; nuts, red peppers and salmon are good sources of magnesium, serotonin vitamin B, C and omega 3s and can help provide stress relief. (10)
7. Drink alcohol in moderation!
I don’t know about you, but when I enjoy a glass of wine; the next day my mind tends to feel cloudy and it takes me longer to get started. Drinking too much alcohol may impair the decisions you make and not be the best when you are feeling stressed. Before your next drink think about how it may be impacting you. Stress Management UK reported on research carried out by Drinkaware.co.uk. They surveyed 6,000 adults and found 60% were using alcohol to relieve their stress. However, the consumption of alcohol solely for this purpose may not be the best solution for your health. Stress Management UK suggests alcohol is actually a depressant and when drinking alcohol excessively it can worsen your feelings of stress or anxiety. (11) Alcohol in moderation should be your mantra!
We all want to be happy and function at our optimal best! From my own experience prolonged stress not only affects your body, but it can impact your mental health as well. Remember you want to eat and enjoy your muffin, not be a stress muffin. The resources in the Success Generator and Action Hub are there to help give you clarity and direction, so you can maintain control and make your goals a reality.