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Jennifer Ellison-Brown: Identifying and managing stress

Published:Monday | June 29, 2015 | 12:00 AMJennifer Ellison-Brown

We are surrounded by stressors - at home, school, on the job and within ourselves. Being able to recognise potential sources of stress is an important step in successfully managing the stress in our lives. Sources of stress are as follows:

- Major life changes: These don't occur regularly, for example, going to college, establishing new relationships, setting education and career goals, graduation, marriage.

- Daily hassles: These occur much more often and include having conflicts with family members, neighbours etc; and worrying about money. People who perceive hassles negatively are likely to experience stress over time.

- College stressors (academic stress): Exams, grades, choosing a major, etc.; interpersonal stressors: establishing new relationships and balancing multiple roles - student, employer, friend etc.

- Time-related pressure: Time pressures are a problem for most students: Financial concerns, financial responsibilities such as paying tuition, taking out loans and managing living expenses are likely to rise and are potential stressors.

Job-related stressors: Worries about job performances, salary, job security and interactions with bosses, co-workers and customers can contribute to stress. High levels of job stress are also common for people who are left out of important decisions relating to their jobs. If job-related stress is severe or chronic, the result can be burnout (a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion).

- Interpersonal and social stressors: Interactions with others can themselves be a source of stress. The community and society in which you live may include prejudice and discrimination to relate to people of other ethnic or socio-economic groups, and may feel pressured to assimilate into mainstream society.

Other stressors are found in the environment or in ourselves. Environment stressors include loud noises, unpleasant smells, industrial accidents, violence and natural disasters.

Internal stressors not found in our interaction with our environment, but within ourselves. We put pressure on ourselves to reach personal goals. Illness and exhaustion are other examples of stressors.

You can learn to control the stress in your life instead of allowing stress to control you. People who manage stress effectively are not only healthier, they also have time to enjoy life and accomplish their goals.

Persons may resort to unhealthy strategies to cope with stress such as using tobacco (smoking); drinking alcohol, using drugs and binge eating.


Stress-coping strategies

Exercise: Physical activity can be effective at reducing anxiety and blood pressure. It allows the body to expend nervous energy and readily return to homeostasis.

- Nutrition: A healthy, balanced diet will supply the energy needed to cope with stress. Avoiding or limiting caffeine intake is important to stress management.

- Sleep: Lack of sleep can be both a cause and effect of excess stress. Without enough sleep, the mental and physical processes steadily deteriorate. Make time to obtain adequate sleep. If insomnia is a problem, get medical advice.

- Social support: Sharing fears, frustrations and joys with others doesn't only make life richer, but also seems to contribute indirectly and significantly to the well-being of the body and mind.

- Communication: Persons may suppress feelings and needs entirely and may have trouble saying no, allowing persons to take advantage of them. At the other extreme, many are angry at others and express such by yelling or being aggressive. Better communication skills help persons to become more assertive, overcome shyness, and deal with anger healthily. Such skills are valuable in social relationships.

- Spiritual wellness: This is associated with greater coping skills and higher levels of overall wellness. It involves social support such as attending religious services or participating in voluntary activities, encouraging moments of relaxation in prayer, meditation and immersion in artistic activities. Spirituality gives a person a sense of meaning and purpose in life that creates positive attitudes towards life and makes the person more aware of their personal values.

Time management: Managing time well can be critical in coping with everyday stressors. Overcommitment, procrastination and boredom are significant stressors. You can improve this by setting priorities, scheduling tasks. Set realistic goals and write them down, budget enough time, delegate responsibility, saying no when necessary. Take a break, and stop thinking about doing it, just do it.

If a personal programme for stress management does not work, peer counselling, support groups and psychotherapy are other available help.