By Sebhat Ayele MCCJ
In the February’s issue, Leadership introduced a new Feature with the title “Manage your Emotions”. This is psychological help that does not exclude spirituality and faith. Actually psychology and spirituality are two faces of the same coin. This issue deals with stress management. Stress is an unpleasant fact of life. We all experience it for various reasons, and we all try to come up with ways of coping with it – some with more success than others. So what exactly is stress doing to your mind (and body) when you’re staring down a deadline? And what can you do to get through it? The real problem with stress is that, for such a well understood and universally experienced condition, as a society we are not trained to deal with it. Still worse, often we are not able to identify or name our feelings whether it is anger, fear, depression, etc. Consequently it leads to many of our most lethal illnesses and long-term health problems. High blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, stroke, obesity, and insomnia are all medical conditions across the spectrum that can be related to or directly influenced by high stress as an environmental condition.
How do we define Stress: Acute and Chronic?
We’re focusing on so-called “bad stress,” as opposed to “good stress,” like deep joy when you get a big promotion, or good stability in many aspects of life. Aside from good stress, there are primarily two types of stress: Acute (short-term) stress that’s usually a response to a specific influence (called a stressor), and chronic (long-term) stress that sticks with you and could either have sprung from a short-term stress that stuck with you, or a constant state of stress that you’re under due to persistent stressors and conditions.
Acute stress is the type of stress you experience when you have an immediate reaction to something you’re presented with. This is the “in the moment” kind of fight or flight response that you have when you have to speak in a meeting, sudden accident, death of a loved one, etc. Acute stress is defined by the fact that it’s immediate and short term. In most cases, once the stressor has been removed, your body and mind return to a normal state.
Chronic stress is entirely different, and is characterized by its long-term nature. This is the type of stress that you feel that you’re under every day, with no relief from the things that make you feel stressed. Most chronic stressors are situations, for example, in which you dislike your job and detest going every day, being there all day, and thinking about it when you leave. Having problems in family relationships or colleagues, struggling with financial security issues are common source of chronic stress that many people are familiar with. According to McKay, G. and Dinkmeyer, D, “these types of chronic stress situations that are the most dangerous. They keep your body’s defenses activated and heightened longer than is generally healthy, and unfortunately more and more of us are living under constant conditions that create stress.” Add to this the fact that “coping with stress” isn’t exactly a topic you learn in school and is a recipe for a lot of very unhappy people.
What Happens When You are Stressed?
Your body shows signs of stress in two ways: first, the rush of hormones that elevate your heart rate, boost your blood pressure, and stop your digestion, and then second the symptoms that you experience and are aware of, like clenched teeth, headaches, and emotional upset. It is very important to be aware that most of us can tell when we’re stressed momentarily, or are just feeling stressed out generally, but there’s a lot going on inside our bodies when we’re stressed that play a role in our health.
The most common and recognizable symptoms of stress are the ones most of us know all too well: insomnia, headaches, jaw pain, back and neck pain, stuttering, heartburn and nausea, nervousness and anxiety, fidgeting, nail-biting, lateness and trouble focusing, and a lack of interest in work or activities that are normally interesting. The American Institute of Stress (AIS) has a list of 50 common signs and symptoms of stress that include these. For example, behavioral changes that lead to other conditions can also be signs of stress, like addictive tendencies, a sudden interest in smoking, alcohol, excessive eating, or gambling, or any other addictive behavior that can be interpreted as an escape from chronic stressors. Often, even subconsciously, many of us try to escape stressful situations or conditions by blocking them out or escaping by way of anything that makes us feel better
These behavioral changes cut both ways though: stress reactions can also lead to isolation, loneliness, and severe depression as well. If you’ve been suddenly feeling alone, forgetful, overly defensive, disorganized, uninterested in your everyday life, overwhelmed by what’s going on around you to the point where you need to lie about them, and having difficulty communicating with others, it’s possible that chronic, poorly managed stress may be part of the problem.
How to deal with Stress
Clinical psychologists McKay, G. and Dinkmeyer D., first discuss emotions, explaining how and why they’re created. They then show how negative emotions can be replaced with positive feelings like joy and happiness. The trick is in learning how to change your thinking. Five basic principles are the key to changing the way you think.
• First you must learn to accept your feelings and yourself,
• Second remind yourself to live in the present, rather than the past.
• Thirdly, you need to recognize the purpose of negative feelings.
• Fourth you need to become aware of your thoughts.
• Fifth, develop a plan for change.
The authors of “How you feel is up to you”, McKay and Dinkmeyer say that “choice is powerful; it sets you free.” They explain that “while you may be able to do little or nothing about a change that results from external circumstances in your life, you can decide how you will respond. Your response is in your control.” They offer practical help in learning how to gain control of your responses, so that you can choose your emotions.
Exercises That Help to deal with Stress
Deep Breathing: to calm the mind and the body so you can get the clarity you need to address the situation. Experts propose taking a 10-second breathing cycle: breathe in for four seconds, and then out for six seconds. It works as a thought distraction, as well as physically slowing down heart rate. This is a good technique to use anytime and anywhere.
Recognizing and creating sharp awareness that you’re having a physical reaction will help you calm down and deal with the situation the way you really want to, as opposed to letting it stew in your mind only to come up with what you wanted to say 15 minutes after you should have said it.
Visualization is one way to relax yourself when you’re presented with a stressor that you don’t need to respond to immediately. You can, take five to ten minutes to immerse yourself in the most relaxing environment you can possibly imagine, whether it’s green fields, quiet place, by the sea shore, or your favorite place at home. Focus on as much of that environment as possible, trying to manifest the sounds, smells, and details about it in your head.
Positive Affirmations: Close your eyes and repeat several times the following statements or similar: I decide for myself – I am responsible – I like myself – I can see the positive in any situation – I am capable – I believe in myself – I am responsible for my feelings – I decide and act – I can do it.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation: If you have additional time to relax and some space to be alone, to defuse some of the natural tension that comes with being stressed. Systematically tense and relax muscle groups, beginning at your toes and working your way all to the top of your head. [This] serves as a distraction from current stressors and can help reduce physical tension that often accompanies stress.
Identify realistic and unrealistic Emotions: to identify whether level of stress and your response to it is realistic or unrealistic when you’re in the middle of it. Often human beings are victims of imaginary and unrealistic problems which are perceived to have taken in the past or may come in the future enough or security lines at the airport are too slow,) then address yourself: calm down, step back, and try to relax.
Daily Journal: keep a daily journal where you write your negative and positive feelings. Examine their sources and decide to act positively.
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us” (Oliver Wendell Holmes)
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