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Dr Duncan

The spectrum of stress

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Stress is something we all live with on a daily basis, but when it affects our ability to enjoy each day, then we need help.

What do the following things have in common:

  • Getting married.
  • Buying and selling a home.
  • A sporting injury that may require surgery.
  • Joining a weight loss program at work.

Although all of these things have a positive outcome in the longer term, they may lead to STRESS in the short term. And it’s stress that seems to be in epidemic proportions these days. Perhaps it’s so much more in the public consciousness because of social media where we can Tweet or Facebook our emotions and share them with hundreds - or in the case of Twitter - literally thousands of “friends”.


And there has been so much written about stress and stress management - the paradox of stress management is that it can so often lead to an increase in stress in the workplace! There are books, videos, and if you Google “Stress” you will get 140,000,000 results in 0.15 of a second: so stress is big business. But the first thing that we should remember about stress is that it is what I would call a “rainbow word” - in other words it is not just one thing but covers a whole spectrum of things.

Stress 

Source

At one end of the spectrum is the great benefit that healthy stress does for us:

  • Making your muscles bigger doesn’t happen by itself - you have to stress them with bigger and bigger weights to get bigger and bigger muscles.
  • If you want to get fit, you have to get out of bed on cold winter mornings and go for a walk or a jog or even a swim!
  • If you want to lose some kilos you have to say no to those energy dense, sugar coated pastries in the bakeries.
  • If you want to learn a new language you have to study hard and learn it word by word.

The list is endless, because we need to stress our systems if we want to improve them - and that’s a good thing.

At the other end of the stress spectrum are all those terrible things that lead to pathological stress:

  • Wars
  • Famines
  • Poverty
  • Abuse
  • Relationship issues

Again the list is long, and it’s the chronic emotional impact of this end of the stress spectrum that can progress to physical illness too. This “red end” of the stress spectrum will almost certainly need intervention by professionals who know how to help those suffering from red-end stress to get through their ordeals in the best possible shape.

Most of us will fall into the brighter end of the stress spectrum, yet even then, there can be a significant physical impact. 

One of the reasons why stress can have physical effects is that our species - Homo Sapiens - has learned to deal with stress through the “fight or flight” reaction. A fight or flight reaction means that your body releases a big amount of adrenaline. And too much adrenalin causes increased sweating, dilated pupils, racing heart, fear/apprehension, loose bowels etc. If your stress is not managed properly, then it can lead to more chronic health issues such as anxiety, high blood pressure and even heart disease. So it is important that we learn to identify our stressors and to be able to manage them appropriately. So:

Make a list of what is worrying you. It may be that there are several things happening in your life and they all work together to make it a misery. Trying to cope with them all at the same time can prove a huge challenge for many. So when you make your list, prioritise your stressors and only deal with the top two. That way you are able to focus your attention on those two - which is a much more manageable option. When you’ve got them under control then you can move onto the next two - which is now often so much easier to do - until eventually you can throw the list away.

Stress
Source

Be Active
. Make sure you factor regular physical activity into your weekly routine. It has to suit you and your capabilities, but just about everyone 
should be able to get outside and take some form of physical activity. Being physically active is the cheapest and one of the more effective ways of helping to reduce stress.

Cut down on stimulants such as tea, coffee and definitely alcohol. Alcohol is a dangerous substance in people with anxiety and should be avoided where possible.

Meditation. The benefits of meditation are many. The major reason that it isn’t used more widely is that, as GK Chesterton said of Christianity, “It has not been tried and found wanting: it has been found difficult and left untried”! There are many forms of meditation and you just need to take time to find one that works for you. The benefits are that it allows you to slow down, to learn how to control your breathing, lower your heart rate and to discover that peace is not something that exists outside of you, but inside of you - in fact inside all of us!

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Each of us is a unique individual and CBT can be tailored to each individual, but in my opinion, CBT should be taught by a trained professional - a psychologist, so that the individual can then learn to use it by themselves.

Stress is something we all live with on a daily basis, but when it affects our ability to enjoy each day, then we need help. For the most part, stress can make us all better people and help us to learn new skills and improve our sense of health and well-being. But for those at the red end of the spectrum, there are many excellent professionals who can help lead you through those difficult times.


Article written by Dr. Duncan Jefferson. More articles here. For more information on health care and private health cover, visit HBF Insurance at www.hbf.com.au.

The content of these articles is not tailored for any particular individual's circumstances. The author does not take into account your physical condition, medical history or any medication you may be taking. Any advice or information provided by the author cannot replace the advice of your health care professional. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent those of HBF unless clearly indicated.

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