Stress is an issue of the late Twentieth Century. Historically, stress has been physical, resulting in a ‘fight or flight’ reaction. Now, much of the stress we face is emotional or mental. Dr Joe Kosterich talks about the things we can do to manage stress, including dealing with the source of stress, relaxation techniques, staying healthy and seeking help.

Today, we’re going to be talking about managing your stress.

Stress is an issue of the late-20th and 21st century. In some respects it’s not particularly new. There have been things around since the year dot that may stress people. In years gone by, being out in the jungle and perhaps threatened by a lion would be fairly stressful; being in war situations was stressful; being stuck out in the desert somewhere is fairly stressful. Historically, the sorts of things that stressed us were physical threats and they were fairly immediate and were a danger; and there were sort of 2 things that could happen: we could either fight against the stress, so if you were confronted by a wild beast out in the jungle you had a chance to either run away from it or try and confront it and fight it. And that’s led to what’s called “The fight or flight reaction.” So the body responds in certain ways when you’re stressed: the body releases adrenaline, this causes the heart to beat faster, the blood pressure goes up, you breathe a bit more quickly, blood flows to the muscles. All these things are designed to have the body physically ready to deal with the physical threat.

Fast forward to the 21st century and in most of the developed world, most of the threats we’re going to face are not necessarily physical. Now, some of you are out there saying, “I could be confronted by a mugger and other things can happen” and that’s true. But most of the stress we face these days is more emotional and mental stress: it’s more about the bills, more about what’s going on with a person’s job and their relationships. Now, these threats are not physical, they are really more to do with how we perceive situations but the body still reacts in the same way. The problem is that in the jungle you are either going to be eaten by the lion or you’re going to run away from the lion, and it’s going to pass in short period of time. Financial worries, relationship worries, issues at work, don’t necessarily pass within a matter of minutes, there’s no quick resolution, so we go into a state of feeling quite stressed. The body’s physical response is the same: the adrenaline pumps out, the pulse goes a bit quicker, the blood pressure goes up, all the things we spoke about before, but instead of the threat passing or perhaps overcoming us it just becomes chronic. And then we really do start to feel quite stressed.

What can we do about it?

The obvious one, of course, is looking to deal with the source of the stress. It sounds fairly obvious but it’s often the one that people miss, “What can I do to change this situation?” “Are there things I can do?” And if there are then it is about taking those steps. If there are things that you can’t change, then it’s a little bit like the weather, it’s about coming to a point of acceptance. So these are sort of fairly important things in terms of how one looks at the situation.

What are useful things one can do to feel less stressed? Slow deep breathing and relaxation is important; things like meditation and tai-chi can be very helpful for stress management; going for a bike-ride; sometimes taking 2 or 3 days just to chill out and go away can be quite a useful circuit breaker with stress; making sure that you’re getting enough sleep – now people will say that’s a little bit tricky because it’s hard to sleep when I’m stressed, doesn’t take away the importance of it.; drinking plenty of water – if you’re a little bit dehydrated, that will make your stress a little bit worse; and of course getting the right nutrition – sometimes that may mean boosting a little bit on some stress vitamins such as the B group vitamins.

First and foremost, though, it is about looking to see what are the things that I can do and then setting about doing them, and then also accepting some of the things that you can’t change and that really is a mind-shift. Sometimes people need assistance with that and that’s often when people may go to counselors, to your GP, some people go to a psychologist, sometimes just unloading to a trusted friend can be a way of getting proverbial things off your chest.

So to sum up, stress is something that is with us. Stress, though, is much more about how we react in response to situations than the situation itself. So it’s more what’s in you rather than what’s outside. Once you come to the position of understanding that it’s within you then it’s also within your power to do something about it.

More information

stress_crushed_businessman_computer_300x300 To learn more about stress, its symptoms, risk factors and treatments, visit Stress (Anxiety).

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