Stress is a normal physiological response to ‘dangerous’ situations and therefore often beneficial. In fact, most people need a little bit of stress to keep their lives interesting! But stress becomes unhealthy when it is excessive, chronic and managed poorly.
Stress is not only caused by negative situations or experiences, but by happy occasions too. As we experience the ups and downs of everyday life or whenever there is a major change in our lives, stress occurs. The key lies in cultivating a positive attitude towards stress and finding ways to recognise and manage it effectively.
How does stress affect you?
Everyone may experience stress differently, from physical symptoms such as a headache, clenched jaw, tight muscles to feelings of anger, anxiety, depression, irritability and impatience. Having trouble sleeping or lower energy levels is also a common sign of stress. It’s important to recognise how you respond to stress as this affects your health. Do you:
- Eat more
- Skip meals
- Drink alcohol
- Sleep more, or less
- Try do too many things at once
How does it affect your risk for heart disease?
Stress alone seldom causes heart disease, but it is a well-known risk factor that contributes the development of heart disease. It is considered a risk factor as much as cigarette smoking, diabetes, and hypertension for CVD onset, due to underlying biological and neurochemical mechanisms. Being stressed often leads to other unhealthy behaviours which are often major risk factors for heart disease and stroke, such as:
- skipping exercise
- snacking on unhealthy foods
- smoking or drinking alcohol excessively
Not everybody has a negative reaction to stress. Stress becomes unhealthy when there is too much for too long.
Tips to manage stress better
While we cannot always escape stress, managing stress effectively is important for a healthy lifestyle, so here are some tips to help manage stress better and keep your health in check:
- A good diet. It is a good stress coping mechanism because certain nutrients are used up more rapidly when one is under stress such as B vitamins which are essential to a healthy central nervous system as well as vitamin C and zinc which are essential to the immune system.
- Learn to say ‘no’. Practise saying ‘no’ when you are feeling over-burdened.
- Get organised. Use “to do” lists to help you prioritise and focus on most important tasks.
- Remember to laugh. It’s your body’s natural stress-release mechanism.
- Do something you enjoy. Set aside some time for relaxation or doing something that you enjoy.
- Get active. Physical activity is an excellent stress-reliever because it provides a distraction, the release of mood-enhancing endorphins and provides an outlet for frustration. It also increases long-term resilience to stress.
- Get enough sleep. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Brush up on sleep hygiene if sleeping is a struggle.
- Cut the bad habits. Rather than turning to alcohol, smoking or caffeine to relieve your stress, exercise regularly and eat a healthy balanced diet; this will help you to feel energized and more able to tackle what life throws at you.
- Learn to accept the things that you cannot change. Focus your energy instead on the things that you have control over.
- Speak to someone. If you are having trouble handling stress then speak to someone, whether it’s a friend, family member or a professional such as a psychologist or social worker.