There is no denying modern life is a stressful one. With all the deadlines to meet, obligations to fulfil, errands to run, being bombarded with information around the clock while trying to balance a harmonious family life with a successful career, it can feel like being on a hamster wheel.
In the mid-1960’s psychological researchers Holmes and Rahe developed a scale of 45 stressors to measure the impact of stress (see left hand side). Each stressor is given a number of points. The most stressful one, death of a spouse 100 points and the least stressful, a minor violation of the law 11 points. Acquiring a total score of 300 within one year indicates a high risk of developing a stress related health problem.
However, what the scale does not take into account is the individual’s personality, their perception of how difficult the stressor is, nor how long the stressor continues for or coping mechanisms employed.
Small amounts of stress can indeed be positive. Positive stress (Eustress) is characterised by being short in nature, helping us meet challenges, focusing our concentration and energising us.
On the other hand prolonged experiences of negative stress (Distress) can cause serious harm not only to the physical body, but also to the mental, emotional and spiritual body.
Currently one in twelve Australians is suffering from severe stress and the World Health Organization has predicted that by 2020 stress-related health conditions will be responsible for five of the top ten of the world’s medical problems.
Effects of stress
Short-term effects of stress will divert your blood supply from the vital organs that need them the most and may include the following symptoms:
-Increased heart rate
-Increased blood pressure
-Poor eating habits
Long-term effects of stress include more serious problems. Being under constant stress can compromise our immune system and makes us more prone to illness. Symptoms of chronic stress may include:
-Putting on weight
-Slow healing of injury
-Abnormal heart beat
-Dry skin & wrinkles as skin loses elasticity
-Thyroid gland malfunction
-Decrease in bone mass
-Depletion of natural pain killers (endorphins)
-Decrease in both male and female sex hormones
-Ihickening of the blood
HOW do you know you are stressed?
Do you feel tense? Unable to relax? Have difficulty falling asleep? Unable to make decisions? Find yourself procrastinating? You might find yourself feeling frazzled and overwhelmed, having thoughts like “I can’t do this”, “I can’t cope”, feeling irritable and overwhelmed. These can all be signs of stress.
So what CAN you do about this?
The fact is stress can’t be avoided. But it can be managed in a way that decreases its harmful consequences. When learning how to cope with stress it can be useful to start by identifying the causes.
As everyone reacts to stress differently, there is not one technique that fits all. There are many different stress reduction tools and there is no right or wrong way of doing this. You might have to do a bit of experimenting before you find the ones most beneficial to your needs. You might want to try:
-Progressive muscle relaxation
-Keeping a journal
Learning to relax is a skill and like any other skill it takes time to learn it. We all have different skills that we have learned and now use quite naturally. Like walking, talking, reading and writing. At first, these skills may have seemed unfamiliar or difficult. But with practice and over time they become easy and now we don’t even think about them anymore.
Thomas H. Holmes and Richard H. Rahe, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, Volume 11, Issue 2, August 1967, Pages 213-218,