How To Understand Stress

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We’ve all had our fill of stress over the last few years. Life naturally brings its own pressures but in recent years there’s been a back-drop of significant global stressors that have impacted everyone – no matter how hard we’ve tried to manage. In Ireland, we’ve been dealing with Covid, a housing crisis, the horror of seeing the Ukraine atrocities and of course, the environmental crisis. When you pile these things on top of normal day-to-day pressures – it’s a lot to deal with.

So first up we should go easy on ourselves and know that we are not alone in dealing with anxiety and stress. Last year a World Health Survey revealed that over half of all young adults in Ireland regularly feel stressed. And more than one third of the adult population (36%) said the same thing – that’s higher than the global average which stands at 31%.

“More than one third of adults in Ireland say they regularly suffer from stress”

If you feel stressed, then it’s a good idea to try to understand what you are going through and to act – in some cases expert medical and psychological support will be needed; in others simple lifestyle changes will help you control the impact of stressors. Also of course, not all stress is bad; a little stress can help you focus on the right things – so that you do meet that deadline or get to the gym to train for an event; which you may not have done without putting yourself under the pressure of a challenge. But it’s about balance…

Let’s start with understanding what stress means and then consider what you can do about it. The good news is that there are plenty of practical stress related strategies you can ty to strengthen yourself against the impact of stress.

Stress relates to your personal reaction to an event or situation that you consider to be a threat or challenge. The exact same situation presented to two different people might cause little or no stress for one person and huge stress for another – just think about getting into the cold Atlantic Sea; some relish the challenge and jump in, others will stand shaking on the shore, stressing just at the thought of it. While that situation is mainly harmless, we should take stress seriously as it literally is a killer – chronic stress can lead to heart disease, cancer and other deadly health problems.

 

What type of Stress are you experiencing?

It’s well established that that there are three types of stress;

Acute Stress – this is a short-term pressure that relates to a challenging situation which is typically not a very regular occurrence but happens from time to time. If you challenge yourself to perform on stage or are under pressure to meet a work deadline – these, put your body and mind under a certain amount of stress. Your heart might race, you might sweat, your legs could shake, your breathing could get faster, you might feel anxious, sleep might be disrupted. But typically, you’ll recover quickly.

Episodic Acute Stress – like acute stress, this relates to a situation where the challenge or pressure happens regularly. For example, you may be under a lot of work pressure and frequently must meet deadlines. Or you may be a carer who is regularly called upon to give emotional support to someone you look after.

Chronic stress – continuous pressures that extend over a long period of time can result in chronic stress. Often someone under chronic stress can see no escape and feels trapped in the situation. Constant arguing with a life partner, being under financial pressure with long-term debts and low income, working in a high-pressure environment – these types of situations can all lead to chronic stress, which is the most serious threat to your health. In Ireland in recent years, long-term exposure to – and use of – social media has led to chronic stress for many users, especially young people.

 

How to Deal with Stress

There’s plenty of suggestions out there on how you should manage stress, some are general lifestyle choices that you can easily implement, and others will need you to take a more long-term perspective and invest time in yourself to alleviate the situation. But what are the best approaches? If stress isn’t dominating your life, and you are mainly experiencing acute stress or episodic acute stress, then simple changes can help a lot – improving your diet, increasing your level of exercise, reducing alcohol intake, learning how to meditate and breathing slowly from your abdomen at the moment of stress – can all improve your ability to deal with stress. But what if you feel stress is impacting your day-to-day life and affecting your health?

 

Chronic Stress

For those living with chronic stress, there are tactics that can help you cope with the situation and as chronic stress can cause serious health problems, it’s very worthwhile to try to alleviate your stresses, with the right support mechanisms. The American Psychological Association offers several tips that you could try. But don’t delay getting expert help if you need it.

Limit commitments – write down all the things you need to get done; prioritise them, strip out anything that is non-essential and explain where necessary that you are not able to meet commitments or maybe ask for help. This should help you to feel more in control of the situation and less overwhelmed.

 

Get support – what friend or member of your family do you feel most comfortable with? Pick one person, reach out and explain to them how you feel; the stress that you are under. They may have ideas that will help resolve the situation but even if not, you’ll feel a lot better for having talked it through with someone supportive.

 

Improve your health – the APA suggests that you simply make one health commitment – that could be a range of things like cutting down on caffeine or alcohol or trying mediation. Health Matters offers a variety of products designed to help relieve stressSolgar Ultimate Calm tablets and Viridian Ashwagandha capsules are two of the most popular stress branded products. And exercise is key, top medics like Dr. Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist at Harvard University are strongly recommending 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise every day.

 

             

 

Improve your sleep – this can feel easier said than done. But try the proven techniques – avoid caffeine, exercising and heavy meals just before you go to bed. Read or do something restful like listening to calming music to prepare for sleep and make this part of your routine so your body knows what to expect. Some people find keeping a window open help. There are many health supplements that are designed to help you sleep better, the most popular at Health Matters include   Viridian Cherry Night and High Potency Magnesium. If you lie in bed at night fretting about things; write them all down long before you go to bed so you can start to release the stress and address the issues in plenty of time before you try to sleep.

 

         

 

Have a Positive Outlook – trying to see opportunities instead of threats in any given situation may not affect the actual outcome but it does reduce stress levels. Difficult situations don’t always work out for the best; but often they do and stressing about the worst-case-scenario isn’t helpful to your well-being. Staying positive can really help to both reduce your stress levels and strengthen your ability to deal with stress. In her book “Flourishing”, the No. 1 best seller, Maureen Gaffney reflects this approach and talks about achieving a deeper sense of well-being despite, and often because of, adversity.

 

Get Help – if you feel too overwhelmed to even attempt to help yourself or you have tried these techniques and continue to suffer chronic stress, then don’t hesitate to seek professional support. A qualified Counsellor can give you the space you need to talk things through and he/she will offer techniques and  guidance that will help get you through to a more content frame of mind. The HSE also offer supports.

Health Matters has been supplying stress-related supplements and products for over 20 years. Visit your local store in Dublin or Wicklow for useful advice on the most suitable products or check out our selected stress-related products online.

 

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