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Feature

Stressing the point - (part 1)

Posted on: 28 Mar 01
Stressing the point - (part 1)

Summary

Often descibed as 'the modern disease', stress is believed to be an underlying reason behind seven out of ten trips to GPs and in a recent survey it was claimed that an astonishing nine out of ten peo
Stress

Often descibed as 'the modern disease', stress is believed to be an underlying reason behind seven out of ten trips to GPs and in a recent survey it was claimed that an astonishing nine out of ten people in full time work felt that they were under stress. But why should this be so? We live in an era of unprecedented wealth and opportunity where filely any whim that can be entertained can be achieved. Meanwhile modern medicine is capable of curing a huge amount of the ailments that plagued our ancestors, we no longer have to fear attack by woolly mammoth or even commitment to the poorhouse. The reality is that much of the stress that we feel is self-generated. Contrary to perceived opinion a certain amount of stress is good for us, it is only when this stress spirals out of control that it becomes a problem.

In the absence of a panacea across the industrialised world the onus is on us to reduce our levels of stress and hence improve our lifestyles. So here PharmiWeb presents our guide to destressing, we've no doubt it will be one of many that you've read, we hope it's one of the few that you'll find useful.

1.Drink less Coffee

It may not be at the top of Ann Widdecombe's hitlist but caffeine is a strong stimulant that leads to a stress reaction in the body. The problem we have in recognising this is the fact that caffeine occurs in so many of the substances that we ingest on a regular basis (coffee, tea, chocolate, fizzy drinks), so from a very young age we are rarely in a position to observe the effects of no caffeine on our bodies. But a caffeine fast can be a very effective way of not only destressing but also of deciding whether the undoubted pleasure substances containing caffeine bring are actually worth it. Three weeks without caffeine should be sufficient for notable effects to occur. You should feel less jittery, sleep better and feel less nervous. Cutting down on caffeine provides quick results with minimal effort and should be the easiest step in your destressing program.

2. Take more exercise

Scientific studies come and go, regularly contradicting each other with news that x is actually good for you rather than the potential carcinogen it was last week. But one piece of expert advice remains a constant, 'Exercise is good for you'. Exercise serves to dissipate the extra energy produced by the stresses of the day. In reality, stress is merely the modern term for the intrinsic human response to perceived danger, the fight or flight mechanism. When our ancestors were faced with danger their bodies released a huge adrenaline burst which would enable them to either fight the perceived aggressor or flee from it. Stress is the legacy of this instinct but, tempting though the thought is, a choice between punching the boss in the kidneys or high tailing it out of the building is just not practicable. As a result this adrenaline rush is suppressed and there is nowhere for our excess energy to go, this is the reason we pace when under pressure or tap our feet. Ideally we should exercise immediately we feel under pressure, a swift walk round the block would suffice but again this is often not possible. However 30 minutes of strenuous exercise three times a week is a vital constituent in leading a healthy life and has the added advantage of providing a physical outlet for the mental pressures we are under.

3. Relax more

The image of meditation, in the UK at least, is still fighting to shake off the damaging associations of Neil from the Young Ones, and yet it is an incredibly powerful and natural method of destressing which can be practised at any time of day. The action of relaxation leads to a slowing of the pulse, relaxation of the muscles, a drop in blood pressure and a slowing of the breathing. This 'relaxation response' is something we all notice when it occurs by accident, on a Sunday morning lie-in for example but when we are under stress a conscious effort is required to effect it. Cooking, reading, listening to music or even stroking a cat can all serve to help you relax, it doesn't have to be all candles, whale song and feeling like Irene from Eastenders. Deeper relaxation techniques such as meditation and self-hypnosis really need to be taught but even the measures mentioned above can have a significant impact on your stress levels.

4. Get some Sleep

Sleep is a vital component in reducing levels of stress and yet it is often neglected by those who are chronically stressed. Actioning any of the other measures mentioned in this article should contribute to a healthy night's sleep but a good idea is to try going to bed 30-60 minutes before your usual time and monitor the effect this has on your mood the following day. In reality many of us claim to get 7 hours sleep a night whereas what we mean by this is that we go to bed at midnight and wake up at 7am. The three key measures of a good night's sleep are waking up feeling refreshed, having plenty of energy during the day and waking naturally before your alarm goes off, if none of these apply to you then you need to look seriously at your sleep patterns, Margaret Thatcher may have only needed four hours sleep per night but normal human beings average out at about 7 or 8.

5. Pace yourself

Health and safety boffins recommend that we take 10 minutes off from staring at our monitors in every hour and this segues nicely with the idea of pacing yourself. Stress comes in two forms, known as 'eustress' (good stress) and distress (bad stress). When we are placed under stress we often react positively for a period, performance improves, as can be seen by the fact that athletes very rarely achieve personnel bests in training or low level competitions. As the quality of opposition and hence the amount of pressure and stress increases, so does athletes personnel performance. However when we reach a certain point stress becomes counter productive, performance degenerates and fatigue sets in. To address this problem it makes sense to take regular breaks in your daily routine. Breaking the day up into two hour stretches with 20 minute breaks in between can provide the body with a natural recovery and destressing time and allow performance to peak several times a day rather than once with a slow tail off for the rest of the day.

For part 2 of this article, please click here.

Mark Stacey

Last updated on: 27/08/2010 11:40:18

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