In today’s society, the causes of stress are many. How can you limit the repercussions of stress on physical and mental health?
What is stress?
Stress is a reaction to change or to situations that are perceived to be threatening. It can be associated to positive events (marriage, a birth, etc.) or negative events (financial worries, job loss, death of a loved one, etc.).
It is important to know that the perception one has of a situation plays a significant role in triggering stress. In fact, a situation that is perceived to be stressful for one person, may not be for another, and vice versa. Thus, the causes and intensity of stress involve a degree of individual variability. Generally, stress occurs when a person:
- feels they are not in control of a situation
- feels that a situation is new or unpredictable
- feels their ego (self-image) is threatened by a situation, and
- fears the negative consequences of the situation
What impact does stress have on mental health?
Stress has a psychological impact that is mainly reflected by:
- irritability or aggressiveness
- a feeling of loss of control
- fatigue or exhaustion
- sadness or tears
- concentration or memory problems, and
These emotions usually dissipate after a transient stress period. However, ongoing or repeated stress can lead to various disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or burnout. Therefore, effective stress management contributes to quality of life and mental health.
What impact does stress have on physical health?
Stress affects not only mental health, but physical health as well. For instance, it can cause:
- skin problems
- increased blood pressure and of the risk of heart disease
- increased risk of infection
- gastrointestinal problems (diarrhea, heartburn, stomach ulcers, etc.)
- back or neck problems
Stress can also lead to unhealthy behaviours, such as:
- alcohol abuse
- drug use
- other addictions (food, gambling, technology, etc.)
How to better manage stress
The first step in managing stress is finding its cause. Subsequently, ways can be found to limit it. For instance, putting an end to a relationship that brings more stress than satisfaction or delegating work to colleagues.
Since stress is a matter of perception, working on the way things are viewed and learning to play down various situations can be beneficial. By accepting that it isn't always possible to control certain aspects of these situations, energy can be focused on concrete actions. Help from a specialist may be useful to reframe the perception of stressful situations.
Moreover, adopting a healthy lifestyle can help overcome stress. Sleep, among other things, is an important factor in health and well-being. A person who is tired has more difficulty dealing with stress. A few good nights' sleep can help considerably.
What are the effective ways to manage stress?
To effectively manage stress, it is also useful to try certain activities or to have recourse to relaxation techniques. Here are a few examples of activities and techniques that have been proven effective.
- Leisure. Discover a new pastime or engage in an activity that you like.
- Physical activity. Its effects on health and well-being are countless and go beyond better stress control.
- Yoga. It is a discipline of both the body and the mind that involves a wide range of exercises and techniques that are very effective in reducing stress.
- Breathing exercises. Practising deep (abdominal) breathing several times a day promotes well-being and reduces stress levels.
- Meditation and visualization. These are really effective ways of managing stress. Meditation helps individuals to purposefully focus on something specific (e.g., an object, sound, physical sensation, etc.). There are various types of meditation; it's up to you to choose the one that is best suited to you. Visualization techniques tap into a person’s ability to form positive mental images.
- Massage therapy. This therapy is a massage-focussed therapeutic care technique. It is particularly helpful in improving stress and fatigue management. There are several types of approaches, some of which are mainly based on relaxation.
- Music therapy. Music therapy uses music and sounds to treat health issues such as pain, anxiety, and stress. It can be useful in many other instances.
Stress is an integral part of modern life and is a normal reaction to change. To limit the negative effects of stress on your mental or physical health, it is important to choose a healthy lifestyle and, if needed, not to hesitate to ask for help from loved ones or healthcare professionals, thus helping you to remain Zen!