While small amounts of stress are good for us, too much can wreak havoc on your physical and mental wellbeing.
Australians are more stressed than ever before, with the Australian Psychological Society’s 2015 Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey showing we are experiencing higher levels of stress, than in 2011 when the survey first began.
But what exactly is ‘stress’ and what can we do about it?
Understanding how it works
Like it or not, stress is a normal part of everyday life. Our bodies are designed to produce a ‘stress response’, to protect us from danger—either real or perceived. When working properly, small amounts of stress can work in our favour, helping us to stay focussed, alert, meet deadlines, and even produce winning results.
However, stress doesn’t work as well as planned when there’s an overload, which results in feeling overwhelmed, tense and worried.
What happens when there’s too much?
While small amounts of stress are good for us, too much can affect us negatively. For example they impact:
- how we feel: anxiety, tension, depression, moodiness and anger;
- how we think: poor concentration, memory lapse, and indecisiveness;
- how we behave: increase in drinking, smoking, overeating, and gambling.
Chronic stress can also lead to health problems, (or aggravate existing conditions) such as:
- headaches and other aches and pains;
- diarrhoea or constipation;
- sleeping difficulties;
- eczema and other skin conditions;
- high blood pressure;
- weakened immune system;
- heart disease.
Tips to reduce your stress levels
Stress doesn’t have to become a way of life. There are many simple things you can do to help alleviate its effects:
- Work out your personal stress levels. Everyone copes with stress differently. Work out what causes you to feel overwhelmed, and if possible, avoid those situations. If that’s not possible, limit the amount of exposure to those situations.
- Positive self-talk. Improve your attitude to the things you can’t change. Ask yourself: “Will this matter in two weeks, one month, one year?” Remind yourself that you’re in charge. Focus on your strengths and the things you feel confident about.
- Breathe deeply. When you find yourself feeling stressed, stop and take some deep breaths. Visualise yourself feeling relaxed.
- Look after your physical health. Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables whole grains and lean protein. Get plenty of sleep, and some moderate exercise on most days. Avoid overindulging in alcohol, caffeine and smoking.
- Organise yourself. Create schedules and routines to avoid last-minute rushing around. Use a diary or planner to keep track of important dates and events. And learn to say ‘no’ to the things that are not important.
- Take time out. Everyone needs time to rest and recharge. Make sure you schedule time for you doing something relaxing. Take a walk or a bath, read a book, watch a movie, do a workout, spend time with friends. Make time for whatever recharges and relaxes you.
- Talk it out. Seek out a friend, family member or a trusted colleague. Sometimes having someone else to talk to can help you get perspective, or find a solution.
- Get help. If you find it difficult to manage stress, it’s vital you speak to an expert. Contact your medical practitioner in the first instance. It might also be useful to seek the support of a counselor, or someone who is an expert in dealing with, and managing stress.
While it’s not possible to eliminate stress, practicing these strategies may go a long way in helping you keep it at bay.