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Monday, September 6, 2010

Feeling Stressed? – What to do

Author: Andrew Cate

We all face stress in our daily lives and in small doses it can be a good thing - it is what keeps us on our toes in job interviews, propels us to meet deadlines and helps us avoid danger. However when the stress in your life exceeds your ability to cope, and when you feel stressed often and for long periods of time, then it can cause emotional and physical problems.

Know the signs

To combat stress you need to be able to recognise when you're not coping effectively. Stress affects the mind, body, and behaviour in many ways. The signs and symptoms vary widely from person to person.  They generally intensify over time if you don’t take action, so look out for the following warning signs that stress is building:

Emotional signs and symptoms

•    Moodiness

•    Constant worrying

•    Anxious or racing thoughts

•    Restlessness / inability to relax

•    Irritability, impatience

•    Feeling tense, overwhelmed or “on edge”

•    Sense of loneliness and isolation

•    Depression or general unhappiness

•    Memory problems

•    Indecisiveness and poor judgement

•    Inability to concentrate, apathy and trouble thinking clearly

•    Sense of loss of control

Physical signs and symptoms

•    Fatigue

•    Muscle aches and tension

•    Headaches or backaches

•    Skin problems (acne, hives)

•    More frequent headaches or colds

•    Overeating or loss of appetite

•    Increased alcohol, tobacco or drug use

•    Digestive problems – diarrhoea, constipation or indigestion

•    Nausea or dizziness

•    Rapid heartbeat or chest pain

•    Loss of sex drive

•    Sleeping more or less than normal, insomnia

•    Weight gain or loss

•    Nervous habits - teeth grinding, nail biting, pacing

If you experience any of these symptoms often and feel stressed on a regular basis, it is time to take action to either reduce your stress or to learn to effectively cope with it.

Coping with stress

You’ll never be able to eliminate all the stress from your life, so it’s a good idea to learn some coping tactics:

•    Identify what triggers stress in your life.

•    Take control over your response to stressful situations. Try to put things in perspective by questioning “how bad is it really?” Keeping a journal or diary to challenge your unhelpful thoughts and to change negative thinking may help.

•    Consider consulting a therapist who specialises in coping strategies using Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Understand how your body reacts to stress and learn relaxation strategies.

What else can you do?

•    Look after your body: Exercise and eat well. Along with taking your mind off your problems, exercise releases hormones called endorphins that enhance your mood and make it easier to cope with stress. Eating right will give you more energy and help you feel better too.  Try and limit alcohol, caffeine and other stimulants.

•    Find your own quick signal to de-stress. This can be as simple as touching your wrist with your opposite hand, taking a deep breath and quietly reminding yourself to relax.

•    Slow everything down: eat slower, drive slower, and just generally stop rushing for a few minutes when you realise you are stressed.

•    Talk it out with someone you trust - such as family, friends, your GP or a counsellor.

•    Laugh it off if you can, it really is the best medicine.

Health tip - Breathe easy

Next time you’re in a stressful situation try to focus on your breathing. This can slow your body’s response and help you to focus on the task at hand.  Take time to breathe - you’ll be surprised at the difference it can make.

Andrew Cate writes for Australian health insurance provider ahm.  For more about leading a healthy lifestyle, health insurance andhealth cover, visit the website.



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