You wake up at 4am to prepare for work, leave home by 6 am in order to beat the traffic but unfortunately you still meet it. You see a pile of files waiting for your attention in the office which must be treated and by the time you are done, you barely have time for breakfast or lunch. You close very late only to meet another vehicular traffic and when you finally get home late, you are so tired you have practically lost any appetite. This is a typical example of stress. Stress is something we all go through on a regular basis. It applies to everyone irrespective of gender, age or class. There is no discrimination when it comes to stress, it affects all of us. Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure. Pressure turns into stress when you feel unable to cope. People have different ways of reacting to stress, so a situation that feels stressful to one person may be motivating to someone else.
As Nigerians, we definitely go through stress and no thanks as we have been rated the most stressful country in the world by Bloomberg. The estimates were based on the information from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, International Monetary Fund, Central Intelligence Agency World Fact book, Transparency International and World Health Organization. Many of life’s demands can cause stress, particularly work, relationships, finance and life traumas, such as living with a chronic condition like cancer or losing a loved one. According to a study published in 2013 in the International Journal of General Medicine, chronic stress seems to take an especially hard toll on the health.
Stress can affect how you feel, think, behave and how your body works. In fact, common signs of stress include sleeping problems, sweating, loss of appetite and difficulty concentrating. You may feel anxious, irritable or low in self-esteem, and you may have racing thoughts, worry constantly or go over things in your head. You may notice that you lose your temper more easily, drink more or act unreasonably. You may also experience headaches, muscle tension or pain, dizziness or even a shrink in the brain. According to a study published in the journal of Biological Psychiatry, even among healthy individuals, adverse life events that cause stress can lead to shrinkage in parts of the brain responsible for regulating emotions and metabolism.
How the body reacts to stress:
When you perceive a threat, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones rouse the body for emergency action. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed your reaction time, and enhances your focus, preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand.
Life will continue to throw stress at us, and at times it could get overwhelming. Stress is not an illness itself, but it can cause serious illness if it isn’t addressed. It’s important to recognize the symptoms of stress early. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of stress will help you figure out ways of coping and save you from adopting unhealthy coping methods, such as drinking or smoking. There is little anyone can do to prevent stress, but there are many things you can do to manage stress more effectively, such as learning how to relax, taking regular exercise and adopting good time-management techniques. Try the following self-guided relaxation tips:
- Practice deep breathing to a count of five, in and out. By taking deeper breathes, your taking in more oxygen and curbing any anxiety or tension created by short, choppy breathes.
- Try progressive muscle relaxation in which you target a specific muscle, tighten it and then relax completely. The process allows you to notice what that tension feels like, so when you become tense because of stress, you’re able to notice it quicker and relax.
- Go for a walk. And, during this time, focus on relaxing. Be mindful in that moment and pay attention to how your body feels before and after the exercise.
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress.
- Eat a healthy diet.Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress. Start your day with a healthy breakfast, reduce your caffeine and sugar intake, and cut back on alcohol and nicotine.
- Get plenty of sleep.Feeling tired can increase stress by causing you to think irrationally. Keep your cool by getting a good night’s sleep.
- Use visualization or guided imagery to help you learn to be one with your thoughts. Sit quietly with your eyes closed, imagining the sights, sounds and smells of your favorite place, such as a beach or mountain retreat.
- Make time for music, art or other hobbies that help relax and distract you.
- Come up with an organized plan for handling stressful situations.
- Make a list of the important things you need to handle each day. Try to follow the list so you feel organized and on top of things. Put together a coping plan step by step so you have a sense of mastery.
- Keep an eye on things that might suggest you’re not coping well. For example, are you smoking or drinking more, or sleeping less?
- Keep a list of the large and little hassles in your day versus the major stressful events in your life. This helps you focus on the fact that you’re keeping track of and managing those as well as you can.
- Set aside a time every day to work on relaxation.
- Avoid using caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, junk food, binge eating and other drugs as your primary means for coping with stress. While they can be helpful once in awhile, using them as your only or usual method will result in longer-term problems, such as weight problems or alcoholism.
- Cultivate a sense of humor; laugh.
- Research has shown that having a close, confiding relationship protects you from many stresses.
- Don’t run from your problems! This only makes them worse.
- Talk to your family and friends. See if they can help.