One of the commonest problems people bring when they get in touch with Birmingham Counselling Services is overwhelming stress. Stress is a part of normal life. No matter how we try to combat it, it will always be there, sometimes originating within us and sometimes starting from an external pressure. We can expect to experience some stress as we go through our daily routines, and we do need some – without the adrenaline it stimulates we would come to a halt. It is absolutely normal and natural to feel stressed when we are facing an important test, a job interview, a major life-changing event like marriage or buying a house or moving, or when we find ourselves in a threatening situation. The extra adrenaline can sharpen our wits, keep us alert, help us to run that bit faster or stay awake that bit longer. What is important is to aim to keep the stress under control, rather than letting it dominate our lives and our days.
The examples mentioned above are obvious causers of stress but less obviously stressful situations will still affect us emotionally, mentally and physically, and stress can build up without our being aware of it or understanding what is happening to us, leaving us anxious, apprehensive, desperate, irritable, exhausted from lack of sleep – any or all of these, and we don’t know why. Very often emotional or mental stress reveals itself first through our bodies, which can reflect what is happening in our minds. After all, our bodies are not separate from the rest of our make-up, they are our physical home. We need to try to keep ourselves healthy emotionally, mentally and physically, so that we have the resources to prevent stress from taking over our lives, and taking care of our bodies is one of the first steps in personal stress management. We can learn to become sensitive to what our bodies need by recognising how stress affects our physical selves when we are trying to adapt to it. You might have a clenched jaw and grind your teeth, you could develop a painful neck and shoulders, have poor appetite or digestion, find that you have bitten your nails – you can learn to understand what your body is telling you. Here are some activities you could try in order to support your body and start getting the excess symptoms of stress out of your system:
1. Give your body a break. It is really important to learn to recognise your body’s limits, especially when it comes to dealing with stress. Some people claim that the more your body is exposed to stress, the stronger you become. Not always true. Our bodies can do far more than we sometimes realise, but every body will eventually reach its limit and possibly begin to deteriorate if we push ourselves beyond our capacity. If you feel some aches and pains while working which are not obviously related to the job in hand, then heed your body’s warning. Take conscious steps to get away from work mentally, as well as physically. There is no point in leaving the office early if you carry it home in your mind. Take some exercise – see an earlier article, Stress-Relieving Activities for People at Work.
2. Relax and enjoy. To help your body reduce its level of stress, try to engage in some activities that will encourage it along the road to recovery. A massage is perfect for energizing your body while getting rid of those tensed muscles that could eventually lead to chronic pain and a limit on your body’s activities. If you can afford it, pamper yourself by visiting a reputable massage therapist at least once a week; an hour in professional hands can work wonders. A regular swim can have the same result, and costs much less. Taking a proper lunch break and going for a walk costs nothing.
3. Exercise and sweat it out. Indulging in physical exercise is a great way to get rid of stress while keeping your body in top shape. Few of us can allocate much time for a physical work-out, but if you can fit it into your day it will have a positive effect. A daily 1 hour exercise routine can work wonders for your cardiovascular function and keep your heart in good working order, and if that amount of time is impossible to find, remember that 20 minutes three times a week is believed to have a beneficial, therapeutic effect. Finding one hour per day might be difficult, but finding a total of one hour per week should be possible for most of us.
The tips above concentrate on the physical side of reducing stress, but your mind will still be vulnerable. Physical exercise can provides an outlet for emotional problems like anxiety, fear and depression but your mind is very complex – nothing is simple in the way we function.
In order to reduce the level of stress in your life, you need to improve the full range of your coping mechanisms. Even when we experience the physical and emotional results of the problems we face, there are still the mental aspects to be addressed. Some hints for dealing with this side of stress will follow later, in Part Two, and our qualified and experienced counsellors at Birmingham Counselling Services will be able to support you as you work through your issues. Get in touch with us by telephoning 0121 314 9903 or vis our website: www.BirminghmCounsellingServices.co.uk