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When a Challenge becomes Stress…

24/11/2015

We all need a level of challenge in life in order to thrive otherwise life becomes dull. But, when those challenges no longer become a positive experience but instead outstrip your coping abilities, then ill-health could be the result.

We all react individually to different stresses, and what appears to be a positive challenge for one person could be a ‘nightmare’ for another. The secret is balance; too much challenge or challenges that we perceive are ‘beyond us’ may lead to us feeling unable to cope. Too few challenges and we become bored, demotivated and this too can lead to stress. Two systems in our body control this balance; the sympathetic system gives us our ‘get up and go’ and releases stress hormones like adrenaline to give us the energy to deal with challenges, and our parasympathetic system is responsible for keeping us relaxed. When these work together in harmony, we have the ideal situation, however this can be a rare occasion.

We tend to suffer the ill effects of stress as a result of too many life challenges or ongoing situations which maybe outwith our control. Stress takes its toll physically and mentally, but before we can deal with the symptoms of stress, we have to realise and accept that it could be due to stress and it is up to us to do something about it.

Finding the cause

While the cause of stress may be obvious, all too often we blame others for the everyday issues in order to avoid facing and addressing the real cause. The daily grind of life can often overshadow and cover up the real root of the problem. Take some quiet time and write down all the things in your life that make you happy. Then make another list of all the things that upset you. The list should include daily anxieties as well as the more long-term problems. Once the list is complete separate your ‘problems’ into minor and major categories. In order to help, you can number your problems on a scale of 1-10; one being not much of a worry and ten being major problems.

 

Addressing the Issue

Then, it is time to deal with your list. First look at the small worries. Can you confront them, or plan and anticipate how to deal with them, perhaps you may even be able to remove them. Once the small issues are separated from the larger problems they are often easily dealt with and by doing this more serious problems often start to ‘break down into more minor or manageable challenges.

You can also try using some of the following strategies to help ease the day to day challenges, leaving more time time and energy to manage your larger worries.

Positive Self-Talk

Self-talk is what you are thinking and telling yourself. Eradicate the words, “I can’t” immediately. One of the most effective methods of turning negative self-talk into positive messages is to mentally say ‘stop’ when you have a negative thought. This will act as a command and also a distractor while you come up with a positive response.

Dealing with Incoming stress

Fortunately our response to stress lies within our control. The key is awareness of our responses to stressful situations and be prepared. There are only a few options to respond to stress and controlling your response can alleviate some of the physical and mental anguish. Anticipation of what is going to happen and making a plan of action allows you to control your response ahead. Confronting stress head-on can useful especially when dealing with another person or perhaps you can simply remove or change the way you deal with or perceive the stressful situations.

Physical Effects

Physically, too much stress over a period of time can take its toll. The breathing pattern tends to be affected first. It changes to become shallower and quicker coming mostly from the upper chest instead of the slow steady diaphragmatic breathing seen in a relaxed person. This alters the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems and can lead to hyperventilation and panic attacks. The simplest method to correct shallow breathing is over-exaggeration of abdominal breathing. Lie flat on your back and place one hand on your upper chest and the other hand on your abdomen. Slowly breath in through your nose and imagine the breath by-passing the top hand and reaching the bottom hand on your abdomen. Feel the abdomen slowly rising and hold the breath for a few seconds and then slowly breath out through your mouth. It may take some time to perfect this simple technique and should be practised at first for short periods of time to avoid dizziness. This is also a great technique if you have difficulties falling asleep or waking in the night. It is a real help before common stressful situations, you can simply adapt the technique to a sitting position. After some practice you will naturally be able to do the technique without placing the hands and just quietly breathe. If panic attacks are an issue, the amino acid L-Theanine can be useful as it will enhance the calming alpha waves without leaving you feeling drowsy. I recommend Elthea as you can open the capsule and place directly in the tongue for a quick action.

Diet

Unfortunately, when stressed our nutritional habits decline. During stress our immune systems are under immense pressure and require good nutrition to avoid becoming ill. You can give your immune system a bit of an additional boost with…

Take note of how you feel when you have eaten – that way you will identify the foods that make you feel well. In general, drink plenty of water, eat foods that are high in vitamin C and the B vitamins. That means plenty of fresh fruit and veg.

You may start to crave caffeine and high sugary foods and drinks and you may even feel it’s warranted ‘to get you through the day’, but the reality is that it is going to do even more harm. Take a good multivitamin which is high in the B vitamins, vitamin C and magnesium.

If you have digestive upsets try a good probiotic such as Acidophilus Pearls IC.

 A helping hand of 2 capsules of Zen-Time should help take the ‘edge off’ the stress with its relaxing properties and the ability to support mental function. You can also take one 40 minutes before you go to bed if you are having sleeping difficulties.

This is the time to take heed to your symptoms though, at the very least. Left untreated these can manifest into more symptoms and have a knock-on effect on other body systems. 



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Maria Webb

Psychology | Stress | Health



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