Stress is a psychological state of excitement and is brought on when you feel threatened, competitive or afraid. Feeling stressed is a normal reaction when you feel that you are unable respond to mental, emotional or physical demands. The body's stress response floods the bloodstream with stimulating biochemicals that prepare you for "fight or flight." This is helpful in emergency situations where you must be alert.
Dangers of chronic stress
However, if you remain in this constant state of mental and physical alertness, it wears you out. Long periods of hypervigilance or stress can become a chronic problem. Chronic or long-term stress can cause strong feelings of anxiety, depression and anger. Someone who suffers from chronic stress is often 'burnt-out' and takes no joy in his or her usual activities. Apart from affecting his or her social life, work or academic performance and emotional wellbeing, chronic stress is associated with diseases such as heart attack, stroke, premature aging, obesity, and even cancer.
Signs of stress
Signs of chronic stress can take many forms and range from emotional, physical or behavioral symptoms. These include:
- Poor judgment
- Persistent moodiness
- Deep pessimism
- Excessive worrying
- Irritability/ agitation/uncontrolled rage
- An inability to relax
- Deliberate isolation from others
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Chest discomfort/rapid heartbeat
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Decline in work performance
- Reduced interest in life, hobbies and other activities previously found pleasurable
- Alcoholism or drug abuse
Tackle stress with relaxation techniques
While you can't avoid all stress, but you can counteract the negative effects of stress.
This can be done by learning to trigger your own relaxation response. This is a state of deep rest that is the opposite of the stress response. By training your mind and body to relax, you can bring about calm and balance in your mental state. Relaxation techniques can reduce stress hormones, slow the heart rate and blood pressure as well as relaxing muscles.
Research indicates that relaxation techniques can bring about increased energy and focus, boost the immune system, and even alleviate pain. Because it is something you can train yourself to do, it is a convenient and cost-effective solution.
Relaxation techniques also teaches mental discipline and you can learn to build mental resilience to:
- Avoid unnecessary stress
- Alter negative or unproductive emotions
- Adapt to your stress triggers
- Accept that there are some things you cannot change
- Find inner peace
Types of relaxation techniques
- Deep breathing
Deep breathing engages the diaphragm to draw in deep breaths to the lungs and boost the level of oxygen in the body. It's easy to learn and can be practiced almost anywhere. A few minutes a day will do wonders for your mental health
- Find a quiet spot and sit comfortably or lie down
- Breathe in through your nose, expanding your belly as you do so
- Hold your breath for two-counts
- Exhale through your nose, pushing out as much air as you can for a count of five. Your belly should contract.
- At the bottom of your exhalation, pause for two counts, then repeat the process
- You may feel a slight tingling sensation. This is normal
- As you breathe, focus on each breath and clear your mind. If your thoughts wander, acknowledge the concern but gently release it and focus again on your breathing
- Positive imagery
If lying quietly is not your style, try visualising a peaceful scenario or 'dreamscape'. Close your eyes and breathe deeply, just as you would with a deep breathing exercise. Think about a quiet vacation spot or a favourite country. Populate the visualisation with as much detail as you can. Think about how the sky would look, how the sand would feel between your toes or how the place would smell and sound. This can take your mind off your stress triggers.
- Massage yourself
No time for a spa or massage treat? Do-it-yourself with some at-your-desk massage techniques. Start your routine with some deep breathing. You may want to massage your temples gently with your fingertips, moving gently to press the top of your head and down towards the back of your neck. Using thumb and forefinger press the muscles in your forearm from elbow to wrist, easing any tight knots gently. You might like to use a favourite hand cream to add to the experience. While you massage away, continue to take deep breaths.