It’s a fact of modern life, and many even wear it as a badge of honor. Yet when it goes unmanaged, stress can have a dramatic, damaging effect on the body and mind.
The Stress Pandemic
According to a 2017 study by the American Institute of Stress, 77 percent of workers regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress and nearly half say stress has a negative impact on their personal and professional life, with a similar number kept awake at night by their worries. Stress-related healthcare or missed work costs U.S. employers $300 billion annually.
Ironically for such a common problem, stress often leaves us feeling alienated. While money and work were cited as the leading causes of stress for three-quarters of people, many reported it led to arguments with family or friends.
How Stress Takes its Toll
Stress is the body’s instinctive reaction to threatening situations – whether real or perceived. Known as “fight-or-flight” or the stress response, a chemical reaction occurs in the body which makes heart rate increase, breathing quicken, muscles tighten and blood pressure rise. In the long term, it has been shown to lead to stroke, heart attacks, anxiety and depression.
Physical symptoms include:
- Low energy
- Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation and nausea
- Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
- Frequent colds and infections
- Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
- Clenched jaw and grinding teeth
There are also various emotional symptoms, such as irritability, difficulty concentrating and low self-esteem.
Fortunately, stress doesn’t have to overcome or overwhelm you. The keys to good stress management include taking care of your physical health, having a supportive social network and adopting a positive outlook.
“Some psychologically minded people might consider seeking professional help to deal with stress. However, many manage just fine using coping strategies such as faith, friends and family, and exercise,” says Dr. Catherine Day, clinical psychologist at The Wellness Centre.
That feeling of loss of control is one of the main causes of stress. Remember, there’s a solution to any problem. Don’t take on too many responsibilities or feel you must sign up for every social event – learning to say “no” can be empowering.
“A lot of people underestimate the influence of exercise on our mood, emotions and cognition,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Alexandra Bodden of OnCourse Cayman. helps to burn off some of that excess emotion, clears your thoughts and releases mood-boosting endorphins. “It can also assist with sleep if done earlier in the day (not within a few hours of bedtime),” she adds. Aim for 150 minutes a week.
TALK IT OUT
“We know that resilience is linked to good social networks and support,” says Dr. Day. “So, many people don’t need to see a doctor due to stressful life circumstances if they can call on colleagues, friends and family.” An honest conversation with a trusted person can help you find solutions and put problems in perspective. If you feel it’s necessary or preferable to speak to a professional counselor, though, Cayman has many dedicated experts.
Consider taking up a constructive, interactive hobby instead of spending all your spare time passively watching television. Setting yourself goals and challenges, such as learning a new language, can build confidence, self-worth and emotional resilience.
AVOID UNHEALTHY HABITS
Don’t rely on alcohol, smoking and caffeine to cope with stress. These are just crutches – known as “avoidance behavior” – that may provide temporary relief, but ultimately only add to the problem. Getting enough sleep and eating a nutritious diet have a big impact on our mood too.
HAVE OFFLINE DOWNTIME
People who constantly check their email, texts and social media accounts experience higher stress levels, according to the American Psychological Association. The feel-good buzz we get from an Instagram “like” quickly wears off. Set aside some time with your phone switched off to do something offline and reconnect with the real world – whether it’s a quick stroll on the beach or an hour reading a book.
WORK SMARTER, NOT HARDER
Concentrate on tasks that will make a real difference and try not to set yourself – or others – unrealistic goals that will pile on pressure. Writing to-do lists helps order your mind and prioritize tasks, giving you the satisfaction of ticking off completed items. Don’t be afraid to delegate.
PRACTICE POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY
“A simple practice of identifying three things that we are grateful for each day can help us to recognize our accomplishments, progress and the good things (even if very simple) that happen every day,” Dr. Bodden advises. This kind of mindful activity can build long-term resilience, coaching yourself to remain optimistic in trying circumstances.
TAKE 10 TO MEDITATE
Spending even a few minutes in meditation can restore your calm and inner peace. It is quite simply a method for controlling your attention and awareness on the present – a skill that can be learned by anyone, no matter their religious or spiritual point of view. Try a free meditation class at BodyWorks or check out an app such as Headspace, which will guide you through a 10-minute mediation.