Managing Stress

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”- Matthew 11:28

Today's busy lifestyles.... If you think you don't have satisfactory balance in your life, you're not alone.

Stress is your body's signal that an area in your life needs attention. When you receive the stress signal, don't ignore it. Often, this alert tells a person that it's time to rest, acknowledge a limitation, make a decision or meet a need.

When ignored consistently, stress escalates to distress. A permanently distressed person develops burnout and exhaustion.

A stressed person also becomes increasingly vulnerable to physical and emotional setbacks such as anxiety, heart attacks, and ulcers.

Many neglect themselves trying to meet everyone else's needs, both at home and at work. A positive approach to managing stress is to develop a balanced lifestyle and become more attentive to personal needs. 

A balanced life can include work, friends, family, play, love, time for self and time for spiritual enrichment. The likely result of such balance is not exhaustion but rather a greater sense of well-being.

What is a Stressor?

A stressor is any demand on your body or mind. It can have external causes such as the irritability of your boss, or internal causes such as a distorted belief that tells you caring for your needs is selfish.

Stressors can also be pleasant or unpleasant. For example, while losing a job is stressful, so is moving on to a better one. Getting a divorce or getting married to the person you love can also place additional demands on your mind and body.

Everyone is different. Situations that are considered stressful for one person may have very little effect on another person.

In order to better manage your stressors, first learn to recognize your body's signals and identify the causes of your distress.

Sometimes, a short-term response is enough. Try doing something you enjoy such as:

  • Taking a short walk.
  • Reading from an inspirational book.
  • Listening to your favorite music.
  • Talking it out with your spouse/friend/family.
  • Breathing exercises.

However, when the stressor is reoccurring, it's time to find a long-term solution. Consider a stressful situation that you are currently facing, think it through and write down your ideas. Often, writing what you think and feel can clarify the situation and give you a new point of view. Consider the following alternatives:

  • What is my stressor?
  • Can you physically change the situation to make it less stressful?
  • If the stressor can't be changed, can you pay less attention to it?
  • Can you lessen the negative impact of the stressor by thinking about ways to look at the situation more positively?
  • If the stressor can't be changed, consider what other stressors you can manage in order to avoid stressor pile up?

By admitting that there are some situations you can change and some you can't, you can stop wasting emotional energy on those unchangeable situations and put your mind and effort to finding solutions to situations you can control.

Physical Effects of Stress

  • Fatigue
  • Queasy stomach
  • Shallow breathing
  • Nervous perspiration
  • Rapid heart beat
  • High blood pressure
  • Headache
  • Sporadic eating
  • Increased Hunger
  • Loss of appetite
  • Indigestion
  • Clammy skin
  • Dry mouth
  • PMS or menstruation
  • Change in sleep habits
  • Lowered immunities
  • Muscle tension, pain, spasms
  • Substance abuse

Mental Effects of Stress

  • Volatile Emotions-anger
  • Social conflict
  • Ambivalence
  • Agitation, anxiety
  • Restlessness, tension
  • Job absenteeism
  • Erratic productivity
  • Procrastination
  • Perfectionism
  • Forgetfulness
  • Poor concentration
  • Mental sluggishness
  • Excessive talking
  •  Irritability
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased sexual interest

Points to remember about stress:

  • Life events don't necessarily cause stress. You have the power to respond either positively or negatively.

  • Many stressors are rooted in your daily habits and the ways that you "talk to yourself" about what has happened.

  • Rigid standards and expecting perfection often lead to stress.

  • Unmanaged stress can cause disease. Examples include ulcers, heart attacks and depression. Other diseases can be caused by habits people acquire in order to cope with stress such as smoking, drinking or drug abuse.

  • There is a spill-over effect between work and home environments. Distress or satisfaction in one area influences how an individual feels about the other.

  • A low level of personal control in combination with a high level of demands can create severe stress.

  • Stress can result from major life events such as a divorce, moving or from the accumulation of "daily hassles."

How do you currently react to life's events?

Stress can have a cumulative effect without you realizing it. The pile-up effects of everyday hassles can become very harmful to your mental and physical health if you aren't managing them effectively.

Setting Priorities:

Gaining a greater sense of control over your life can come as a result of thoughtful planning. Decide what your short-term and long-term goals are and develop realistic strategies to achieve them. Consider the various aspects of your life by asking yourself these questions:

  • What is really important in my life?

  • Who are the important people in my life?

  • What do I want to achieve for myself and my family?

  • How will I give priority to the things that are the most important?

Stress and Nutrition

A faulty diet can certainly be a source of stress. Conversely, stress can lead to poor dietary habits.

When under stress, the body uses more essential nutrients than it normally would. Therefore it is vitally important that these nutrients are replenished to ensure that the body is well protected to cope with stress and other areas of illness. 

One of the main issues with stress is that it also leads to unhealthy eating habits. This applies mainly to people who are always on the go and lead a busy lifestyle. People that fall into this category often endure large amounts of stress and have no time to fit a balanced nutrition around their busy schedule. Additionally, stress makes the body crave foods that are high in fats and sugars. This flaw in eating, in time will inflict a greater stress on the body, plus other problems that pose a threat to your physical and mental health.

When a person becomes overwhelmed with stress, a common reaction is a sudden urge to eat food. The majority of the time, foods consumed in this situation will be ‘convenience foods’ that are considered a quick fix to nullify stress. The theory of a quick fix is entirely false however, as these foods/drinks only worsen the problem. Consuming foods that are of a ‘junk’ nature actually increase the volume of stress on your body.

Common Reaction to Food When Stressed:

Fast Food Intake: The problem with this convenience is that the foods consumed from a fast food shop/restaurant play a hindrance on your overall health. It is also an expensive habit that can cost you money in the long haul. Money problems also increase stress levels.

Forgetting/Skipping Meals: It is important to eat three meals a day and most people know this, but stress can have the effect of making people skip, or forget to eat their meals. People who are overly stressed tend to pick up this habit and find out that later on in the day they will become hungry, and more than likely resort to eating junk food to sort their hunger. 

Coffee Intake: When under a lot of stress, people often burn the candle at both ends to try make ends meet. When they attempt this, they normally use coffee or other stimulants to assist them. The problem with coffee is that it contains caffeine which, if taken in large quantities can have negative side effects on the body. One of the main problems is that the person is using coffee to stay awake when rest is obviously required. Drinking lots of coffee will eventually lead to a pattern of all day caffeine consumption. This pattern/addiction damages the body because it is working when it should be resting. Caffeine also has negative side effects on the brain and nervous system if taken in vast quantities.

Eating the Wrong Food Types: The problem people have when under stress is that they crave foods that are high in the nutrients which should be limited. This is down to the hormone called cortisol that is produced when under stress. A person that is stressed will generally go for foods that have high contents of fats and sugars.

Fad Dieting: When people become stressed, they tend to put on weight. This is due to the amount of cortisol produced which in turn, leads to a high amount of fatty foods consumed. Due to this problem, people try to lose weight quick by either going on fad diets, or cutting out food entirely. This can be a very dangerous choice to make as you are not getting all the vital nutrients you need for your body to function properly. The results may look good for you in the short run, but in the long term your body will suffer because of this.

Constantly Picking at Foods: When people become stressed, they notice that they begin to eat much more than they normally would. When a person is not stressed, they only tend to eat food when they are hungry (ideally this should only be three times a day). The situation is very different under stress; in fact it is quite the opposite. Under stress, a person will eat when they are not even hungry and constantly pick at fatty snacks.

How these imbalances affect the body: The examples mentioned above are all bad eating habits that are influenced by stress. The most important issue to grasp is the harm that stress can inflict from bad nutrition. If you employ bad practices in your nutrition management while under stress, you invite the risk of seriously damaging your body. Even if your body does not feel any strain in the short term, it will defiantly catch up with you in the long run.

Some of the effects of poor stress management:

Negative Hormonal Side Effects from Caffeine Intake: Too much caffeine can have a massive negative impact on your body when under stress. Although it can give you a quick boost when required, the fatigue will catch up once the caffeine has worn off. You should not need caffeine to focus, and if you do, this lack of focus is your body’s way of telling you it needs rest. An over excess of caffeine can lead to negative effects such as restlessness, lapses of concentration and a decrease in your ability to be fully effective. Caffeine also has a massive impact on the hormones in your body. The following hormones are increased under the influence of caffeine.

  • Adenosine - Alerts you but causes sleep problems in the future.
  • Adrenaline - Gives you an extra boost but will make you feel fatigued once the adrenaline has worn off.
  • Cortisol - The Stress hormone that makes you crave sugar and fatty foods.
  • Dopamine - Initially makes the person feel good but once worn off, generates a low and possible dependence/addiction. 

Weight Issues: As mentioned, the amount of cortisol produced by stress gives the person a strong urge to divulge in foods that are high in carbohydrates, sugars and fats. This pattern of eating will result in excess fat being stored around the upper half of your body (mainly the abdomen). This type of fat around the abdomen can lead to serious health problems, mainly concerning the heart. Continued stress will only make this problem worse.

Poor Health and Immune System: Under stress, the body’s natural defences can be severely affected and leave the person with a weaker immune system. This leaves the person more prone to contracting illnesses. If the stressed person falls ill, then this will only lead to an increased amount of stress inflicted on the body.

Imbalances in the Blood Sugar: When someone stressed does not eat the right amount of food or the correct amount of nutrients, they will start to encounter inconsistencies in their blood sugars. These inconsistencies lead to the person not behaving as they normally would. Examples include: Tiredness, Lapses of concentration, Mood swings If stress is not dealt with properly in the short term, the body will suffer in the long haul with blood sugar problems that are much more serious, such as diabetes.

Loss of Nutrient and Water When Stressed

When the body is under stress, it has been proven that the body uses up its resources until they are bare. The following are the main nutrients that the body will use up:

A Vitamins: Essential for normal vision. 

B Vitamins: These help the body cope with stress (build your metabolism) and control the whole nervous system.

C vitamins: Protection of the immune system (antioxidants, diabetes protection etc.). Lowers the amount of cortisol in your body.

Proteins: Assist in growth and tissue repair.

Magnesium: Needed for a variety of tasks such as muscle relaxation, fatty acid formation, making new cells and heartbeat regulation. In order to consume the following nutrients, a person needs to adopt some sort of eating plan or diet. Following a strict plan will strengthen the body against stress and other illnesses that are thrust upon the body.

Water: When you’re under stress, your adrenal glands pump out stress hormones. And if you’re constantly under pressure, eventually your adrenals become exhausted, causing an adrenal insufficiency. Problem is, the adrenals also produce the hormone aldosterone, which helps regulate your body’s levels of fluid and electrolytes. So as adrenal fatigue progresses, your body’s production of aldosterone drops, triggering dehydration and low electrolyte levels. While increasing fluid intake can help in the short term, mediating your stressors is the only real long-term solution.

Combating Stress with Nutrition

The impact that stress can have on your health is very serious and can cause problems to every major system in your body. We have mentioned previous that improper means of dealing with stress can result in conditions such as heart disease, headaches, weight gain and cancer. With the right nutrition, you can reduce the impact that stress has on your body and effectively repair any damage that has been done prior to this.

Vulnerability to stress increases with poor diet. Therefore incorporating a well balanced nutritional plan into your lifestyle will help you pull through any challenging times that you may come across.

It is imperative you provide your body with all necessary nutrients when going through a stressful period. If this task is not accomplished, your body will suffer and will not be able to handle stress in an effective manner.

A wide variety of foods need to be consumed in order to remain healthy. This is because there is not one food available that contains all the necessary nutrients that you require. Nutrients that you need include minerals, vitamins, proteins, good fatty acids and energy that comes from foods containing carbohydrates, protein and fats.

Foods and drink that you need to make your body more resilient to stress:

  • Water-Instead of sugary drinks, hydrate your body with water. Water increases nutrients and oxygen flow to the brain; enhances alertness naturally; aids in digestion, absorption, and utilization of nutrients.
  • Fresh Fruits-Satisfies your sweet tooth with low-calorie, healthful energy source; provides rich matrix of fiber, vitamins, phytochemical, and water to protect against stress.
  • Fiber and complex carbohydrates-Eat foods that are high in fiber and complex carbohydrates such as whole wheat bread, oatmeal and quinoa not only provide lasting satiety and reduce the urge to snack, but can also increase serotonin for longer periods of time than refined carbs. Complex carbohydrates will also increase mood-elevating, calming hormones in the brain. 
  • Leafy Greens-Spinach, kale, chard and more contain magnesium, which helps muscles relax, and calcium, which has calming effect. Fresh vegetable will also provide digestive enzymes, antioxidants, and other stress-lowering vitamins and minerals.
  • Nuts-Nuts like walnuts, almonds, pecans and hazelnuts help maintain healthy cortisol levels, says Dr. Doni Wilson, a naturopathic doctor and author of The Stress Remedy. The vitamins in nuts can also help strengthen the immune system, which can be hindered by stress. Eating nuts can also have anti-stress minerals such as selenium, magnesium, and calcium.

Foods and drinks that you need to stay away from:

Sugar: Sugar is one of the main foods you need to disregard. The food itself contains no goodness or vital nutrients that we require. Sugar also gives the person a large burst of energy for a short period of time only. When this ‘high’ runs out, the person will suffer a giant comedown from this and suffer a lengthy ‘low’ period.

Alcohol and Coffee: Vitamins B are essential for coping with stress as they are used in building up your metabolism. Substances like alcohol and caffeine will drain these resources and affect the functionality of your brain. Caffeine can be responsible for inducing the first stage of stress (Alarm Stage). When consumed under stress, the body uses reserve B vitamins so you have no resources for coping with the problem. Caffeine is also responsible for making people hyperactive and nervous. Because of this, the person’s sleeping pattern is affected significantly.

If you have trouble controlling your stress and always feel tired, it is recommended that you look at your diet to see if you have any nutrient deficiencies. By changing your eating plan to compensate for the nutrients that you are lacking in.

Exercise

Exercise increases your overall health and your sense of well-being, which puts more pep in your step every day. But exercise also has some direct stress-busting benefits.

  • It pumps up your endorphins. Physical activity helps bump up the production of your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. Although this function is often referred to as a runner's high, a rousing game of tennis or a nature hike also can contribute to this same feeling.
  • It's meditation in motion. After a fast-paced game of racquetball or several laps in the pool, you'll often find that you've forgotten the day's irritations and concentrated only on your body's movements. As you begin to regularly shed your daily tensions through movement and physical activity, you may find that this focus on a single task, and the resulting energy and optimism, can help you remain calm and clear in everything you do.

  • It improves your mood. Regular exercise can increase self-confidence, it can relax you, and it can lower the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety. Exercise can also improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress, depression and anxiety. All of these exercise benefits can ease your stress levels and give you a sense of command over your body and your life.  

Get More Sleep

A lack of sleep is a significant cause of stress. Unfortunately though, stress also interrupts our sleep as thoughts keep whirling through our heads, stopping us from relaxing enough to fall asleep.

Rather than relying on medication, your aim should be to maximise your relaxation before going to sleep.  Make sure that your bedroom is a tranquil oasis with no reminders of the things that cause you stress.  Avoid caffeine during the evening, as well as excessive alcohol if you know that this leads to disturbed sleep.

Stop doing any mentally demanding work several hours before going to bed so that you give your brain time to calm down. 

Try taking a warm bath or reading a calming, undemanding book for a few minutes to relax your body, tire your eyes and help you forget about the things that worry you.

You should also aim to go to bed at roughly the same time each day so that your mind and body get used to a predictable bedtime routine.

Using a tablet or computer in the late evening disrupts the body's melatonin production.

Bright Screens Could Delay Bedtime: If you have trouble sleeping, laptop or tablet use at bedtime might be to blame, new research suggests. Mariana Figueiro of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and her team showed that two hours of iPad use at maximum brightness was enough to suppress people's normal nighttime release of melatonin, a key hormone in the body's clock, or circadian system. Melatonin tells your body that it is night, helping to make you sleepy. If you delay that signal, Figueiro says, you could delay sleep. Other research indicates that “if you do that chronically, for many years, it can lead to disruption of the circadian system,” sometimes with serious health consequences, she explains.

The dose of light is important, Figueiro says; the brightness and exposure time, as well as the wavelength, determine whether it affects melatonin. Light in the blue-and-white range emitted by today's tablets can do the trick—as can laptops and desktop computers, which emit even more of the disrupting light but are usually positioned farther from the eyes, which ameliorates the light's effects. The team designed light-detector goggles and had subjects wear them during late-evening tablet use. The light dose measurements from the goggles correlated with hampered melatonin production.

22 More Stress Reducing Tips

To reduce stress and set more reasonable standards for yourself and others, the following suggestions may be helpful to you. Select those from the list that are the most useful to your own circumstances. Work on making one or two changes at a time.

  1. Just stop, take a break and breathe.....
  2. Focus on what's really important to you and your family. (Develop a list of priorities.) Try having regularly scheduled meetings to talk about family matters.
  3. Practice saying "no" to added demands on your personal time.
  4. Involve family members in household responsibilities. Get outside help if necessary.
  5. Learn to value yourself and what you do; don't wait for the approval of others.
  6. Live in the present; don't dwell on the past or worry about the future.
  7. Try to be more flexible and forget about being perfect; you only need to do your best and continue to grow. • Build fun and relaxation into your daily and long-term plans.
  8. Plan ahead. Allow sufficient time for making important decisions and developing alternative plans.
  9. Focus on your accomplishments rather than on your shortcomings.
  10. Discard your negative beliefs, and learn to talk to yourself in positive ways.
  11. Invest in your health. Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and sleep enough hours.
  12. Learn to listen well, and communicate your needs and preferences clearly.
  13. Keep a sense of humor and laugh often. Avoid taking everything too seriously.
  14. Learn to negotiate. When faced with conflict, seek solutions that maintain positive feelings.
  15. Establish networks of cooperation, support and friendship at work and in your community. Learn to delegate responsibilities to capable others.
  16. Learn to accept disappointments, and go on.
  17. Let go of anger in physically healthy ways. Brisk exercise is one of the best tension relievers.
  18. Do one thing at a time. When faced with a demanding project, break it into manageable steps, and avoid procrastination. Remember to celebrate your small successes.
  19. Reduce tension by becoming more organized. At work and at home, adopt methods for keeping track of commitments, due dates, and events.
  20. Develop problem solving skills and explore a variety of alternatives.
  21. Work with others to establish more family-friendly policies in the community and the workplace.
  22. Take advantage of the various human resources in your community.
  23. Pray and have faith in God.

10 Bible Verses to Uplift and Encourage You When Stressed

1. "It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed." -Deuteronomy 31:8

2. "I have set the LORD continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken." -Psalm 16:8

3. "When I am afraid, I will put my trust in Thee. In God, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can [mere] man do to me?" - Psalm 56:3-4 

4. "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16.33

5. "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." -Philippians 4:6-7

6. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." -John 14.27

7. "You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance." -Psalm 32:7-8

8. 'I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches.' -2 Corinthians 11:27-28

9. "When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles." -Psalm 34:17

10. "So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace." -Romans 8:6

Videos

Kelly McGonigal: How to Make Stress Your Friend, Ted Talks Stress.

It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat. But while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.

Community resources:

  • Public library
  • County Extension office
  • Local hospitals
  • Support groups in your area
  • Health care providers
  • Division of social and family services
  • Counselors in your religious community
  • Marriage and family therapists
  • Human Resource Managers at place of employment