Deal with stress naturally
Dr. Tony Vendryes, Contributor
It seems that in every period in his history, man has been subjected to some form of deadly threat or disease.
Today, perhaps the greatest challenge to health is not heart disease, or cancer, or diabetes, or AIDS. No, I believe that the greatest threat that we face is stress. Stress underlies much of our suffering. Stress contributes to such a very long list of disorders, some of them life-threatening, that researchers at Cornell University Medical College in New York called stress "the most debilitating medical condition in the United States".
Sadly, we spend a great deal of time and money treating symptoms while failing to recognise and address the underlying cause: stress!
The word 'stress' is the current buzz word. Everyone complains about it and blames it for everything - from flu and headaches to high blood pressure and cancer. Some authorities claim that 70 to 80 per cent of the patients who visit the doctor are suffering from stress-related disorders. It is hard to imagine how a single entity can produce so many problems.
What is Stress?
It is extremely important to understand that stress is not a thing, it is a response! Stress is the internal response that an individual has to an external stimulus. We humans are very good at finding scapegoats to blame for the way we feel. I am sorry, but stress is not your spouse or your financial situation. It is not what is happening on the outside. It is how you choose to respond internally to those external instigating factors.
The external events are called stressors while your internal reaction is the stress. The enemy is within. Understanding the simple distinction between stress and stressor is crucial to effective stress management. Very often, we cannot change the external factors (stressors), but we can learn to control our internal response to those stressors. We don't have to be victims. We have the power and the ability to choose. The most powerful source of stress is in our own minds.
How Does Stress Affect Us?
Science has become more aware of how powerfully the mind and its thoughts affect the body. Common manifestations of stress are:
- Sleep disorders;
- Anxiety and nervousness;
- Headaches, dizziness, and various unusual sensations in the head;
- Sexual problems such as impotence or low libido;
- Digestive problems such as gas, diarrhoea, or constipation and the Irritable Bowel Syndrome;
- Depression, low energy, emotional and mental disturbances, and difficulty concentrating;
- Ringing in the ears, chest pain, and backache;
- Awareness of heartbeat and difficulty in breathing;
- Tingling or numbness in the hands and/or feet;
- High blood pressure;
- Menstrual disturbance, infertility, and hormone imbalances;
- Accident proneness and phobias
- Poor performance, for example, in examinations.
It is important to realise that stress is not necessarily a bad thing. Life will always have its stressors. If we can handle them well, they can serve to stimulate us to greater strength and accomplishments. Good stress management is not simply trying to avoid stressors; that may not be possible or even advisable. The idea is to learn how to handle and deal with stressors effectively.
In the same way that the body has a stress reaction, the 'fight or flight' response, so, too, is there also a relaxation response. This occurs when the body calms and releases its tension and the brain produces its own tranquilisers (endorphins) in the right amount, at the right time, and without side effects. Learning how to elicit this relaxation response is the key to good stress management.
How to Manage Stress
There are several tools and techniques that can help you to deal with stress effectively. First, identify and list your main stressors and become aware of your reactions to them. Learn to observe yourself in stressful situations so you can begin to choose how you respond instead of having an unconscious reaction. Don't react. Respond!
Explore ways to elicit your relaxation response. Different people have different activities that relax them, for example, listening to music, engaging in your favorite hobby, social work, and so on.
I particularly recommend the audio CD programme A Time to Relax. It contains special music by my colleague, Dr Winsome Miller-Rowe, while I lead you through a series of breathing and visualisation exercises designed to teach you how to put yourself into deep relaxation. It is particularly helpful for people who have difficulty falling asleep. Daily exercise, particularly yoga, deep breathing, meditation, self-hypnosis, and visualisation exercises are most beneficial. Seek professional help for counselling or psychotherapy if necessary. This helps you to identify the underlying source of your stress and to develop better ways of releasing it.
Be extremely careful about using drugs to alleviate symptoms of stress. This includes recreational drugs like alcohol and marijuana as well as prescription medicines like Valium and Ativan. They only give temporary relief and are all addictive. A proper diet is extremely important. Aim to include five or more servings of fresh fruit and vegetables daily along with an optimal protein intake. I recommend the Cellular Nutrition Programme with nutritional supplements like fish oils with omega-3 fats, magnesium, and the B vitamins. Avoid sugar, artificial sweeteners, MSG, hydrogenated oils, and fried foods.
Herbs like Tang Kuei, chamomile, kava, St John's Wort, and valerian are excellent non-drug alternatives to tranquiliser medication. The advice of a qualified health-care professional on the choice, combinations, and use of these herbs is important, especially in individuals with significant anxiety and/or depression. The practice of yoga provides an excellent holistic approach to stress management, particularly a special yoga technique called Yoga Nidra.
I wish for our readers a happy and relaxing 2015.
You may email Dr Vendryes at firstname.lastname@example.org or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on POWER106FM on Fridays at 8:15 p.m. Details of his new book, 'An Ounce of Prevention - Particularly for Men', is available on his website www.tonyvendryes.com.