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Tips for stress management

The lifestyle that we live today is very different to what we used to live 5 – 10 years ago. Today with the advent of Internet and globalization humans are expected to perform 24/7. I personally call this the evolution as E-Era, where-in Darwin’s Theory of "Survival of the fittest" is applicable. With the ever increasing demands from bosses, competition and family, we are bound to undergo tremendous pressure and stress. The effect of stress is fatal to a human and could result in stroke or a heart failure.

So what is stress? Is it a disease? Is it a virus? What is it? Read on.

What is stress?
Stress is a physical, chemical or emotional factor causing mental tension; possible factor in causing disease. This is a condition or circumstance (not always adverse), which can disturb the normal physical and mental health of an individual. This demand on mind-body occurs when it tries to cope with incessant changes in life. A 'stress' condition seems 'relative' in nature.

Cause of stress?
Stress is caused because of many reasons. Your stress may be linked to outside factors such as the state of the world, the environment in which you live or work, or your family. Your stress can also come from your own irresponsible behavior, negative attitudes and feelings, or unrealistic expectations.

Furthermore, the causes of stress are highly individual. What you consider stressful depends on many factors, including your personality, general outlook on life, problem-solving abilities, and social support system. Something that's stressful to you may be neutral or even enjoyable to someone else. For example, your morning commute may make you anxious and tense because you worry that traffic will make you late. Others, however, may find the trip relaxing because they allow more than enough time and enjoy playing music or listening to books while they drive.

Stressors can be divided into three broad categories:

1. Frustrations – Frustrations are obstacles that prevent you from meeting your needs or achieving personal goals. They can be external—such as discrimination, an unsatisfying job, divorce, or the death of a loved one—or internal. Examples of internal frustrations include physical handicaps, the lack of a desired ability or trait, and other real or perceived personal limitations.

2. Conflicts – Stressors involving two or more incompatible needs or goals are known as conflicts. For example, a working mother might feel torn over a job offer that would advance her career, but take time away from her family. Sometimes the conflict involves a choice between two desirable options, such as deciding between two acceptance offers from equally appealing colleges. At other times, the decision involves disagreeable alternatives.

3. Pressures – Stress can stem from the expectations of others or the demands you place on yourself. You may feel pressure to get good grades in order to please your parents or get into a good school. Or you may feel pressure to excel at work, make a difference in your community, or be the perfect mother.

Effects of stress
The stress response of the body is meant to protect and support us. When faced with a threat, whether it is to our physical safety or emotional equilibrium, the body's defenses kick into high gear in a process known as the "fight or flight" response. The sympathetic nervous system pumps out adrenaline, preparing us for emergency action. Our heart rate and blood flow to the large muscles increase, the blood vessels under the skin constrict to prevent blood loss in case of injury, the pupils dilate so we can see better, and our blood sugar ramps up, giving us an energy boost.

The problem with the stress response is that the more it is activated, the harder it is to shut off. Instead of leveling off once the crisis has passed, your stress hormones, heart rate, and blood pressure remain elevated. Extended or repeated activation of the stress response takes a heavy toll on the body. The physical wear and tear it causes includes damage to the cardiovascular system and immune system suppression. Stress compromises your ability to fight off disease and infection, makes it difficult to conceive a baby, and stunts growth in children. It can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to everyday pressures and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. And, of course, the stress of living with a debilitating disease or disorder just adds to the problem.

Signs and symptoms of stress

Intellectual symptoms (How stress can affect your mind)

1. Memory problems.
2. Difficulty making decisions.
3. Inability to concentrate.
4. Confusion.
5. Seeing only the negative.
6. Repetitive or racing thoughts.
7. Poor judgment.
8. Loss of objectivity.
9. Desire to escape or run away.

Emotional symptoms (How stress can make you feel)
1. Moody and hypersensitive.
2. Restlessness and anxiety.
3. Depression.
4. Anger and resentment.
5. Easily irritated and "on edge".
6. Sense of being overwhelmed.
7. Lack of confidence.
8. Apathy.
9. Urge to laugh or cry at inappropriate times

Physical symptoms: (How stress can affect your body)

1. Headaches.
2. Digestive problems.
3. Muscle tension and pain.
4. Sleep disturbances.
5. Fatigue.
6. Chest pain, irregular heartbeat.
7. High blood pressure.
8. Weight gain or loss.
9. Asthma or shortness of breath.
10. Skin problems.

Behavioral symptoms (How stress can affect your behavior)

1. Eating more or less.
2. Sleeping too much or too little.
3. Isolating yourself from others.
4. Neglecting your responsibilities.
5. Increasing alcohol and drug use.
6. Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing).
7. Teeth grinding or jaw clenching.
8. Overdoing activities such as exercising or shopping.
9. Losing your temper.
10. Overreacting to unexpected problem

What is Stress Management

The stress response narrows your ability to think clearly and function effectively. It can disable you physically and emotionally. The goal of stress management is to bring your nervous system back into balance, giving you a sense of calmness and control in your life.

Controlling your life means balancing various aspects of it — work, relationships and leisure — as well as the physical, intellectual and emotional parts. People who effectively manage stress consider life a challenge rather than a series of irritations, and they feel they have control over their lives, even in the face of setbacks.

There are no "one size fits all" solutions to managing stress. Every individual has a unique response to stress, so experiment with a variety of approaches to manage and reduce stress to learn what works best for you.

Tips for stress management

1. Breathe easily
To breathe deeply, begin by putting your hand on your abdomen just below the navel. Inhale slowly through your nose and watch your hand move out as your belly expands. Hold the breath for a few seconds and then exhale slowly. Repeat several times. Always feel the breath enter and leave your body.

2. Visualize calm
Close your eyes, take three long, slow breaths, and spend a few seconds picturing a relaxing scene, such as walking in a meadow, kneeling by a brook, or lying on the beach. Focus on the details -- the sights, the sounds, the smells.

3. Always smile
Smiling is a two-way mechanism. We do it when we're relaxed and happy, but doing it can also make us feel relaxed and happy. Learn to always smile. Smile is the best medicine. When the going gets tough, the tough gets going... and let the smile let all your tensions go. It’s the most difficult to do, but with presence of mind you can smile during any tension.

4. Compose a Mantra
Devise an affirmation -- a short, clear, positive statement that focuses on your coping abilities. Affirmations are a good way to silence the self-critical voice we all carry with us that only adds to our stress. The next time you feel as if your life is one disaster after another, repeat 10 times, "I feel calm. I can handle this."

5. Meditate
Quiet the mind and engage in exercises that help you focus on your breathing, an object, or your body sensations. The goal is to relax the mind, body and spirit. I am in the middle of releasing a 5 minute meditation guide. To receive an update on when the guide is released I would recommend that you signup for newsletter.

6. Take a Walk
It forces you to breathe more deeply and improves circulation. Step outside if you can; if that's not possible, you can gain many of the same benefits simply by walking to the bathroom or water cooler, or by pacing back and forth. The key is to get up and move.

7. Stretch
Muscles tighten during the course of the day, and when we feel stressed out, the process accelerates. Stretching loosens muscles and encourages deep breathing. One of the greatest stress-relieving stretches is a yoga position called the child pose, which stretches the back muscles. On a rug or mat, kneel, sit back on your heels, then lean forward and put your forehead on the floor and your arms alongside your legs, palms up. Hold for one to three minutes.

8 Get yourself a stress ball
Studies have shown that keeping a stress ball with you helps when you feel stressed out. Squeezing the stress ball stimulates your nervous system and thus relaxes you out. Always keep a stress ball handy.

9. Listen to soothing music
Find music that you feel helps you sooth your muscles. Get 4 – 5 such music (MP3 or any format) and listen to it when you feel under stress. In this times when iPod and Mobile phones allow you to play back MP3, relieving yourself from stress anytime/anyplace is possible. 10. Work on your hobby
If you have a hobby, then I would recommend that you participate in it. If you don’t have a hobby, then pick up one. Participating in your hobby helps you focus on something that you enjoy which in turn helps you to relax your mind and body.

When is professional help needed for stress management?
There’s a fine line between feeling stressed out while still being able to function effectively, and the debilitating, even paralyzing phenomenon we think of as burnout or breakdown. The difference is between handling your stress on your own, and being unable to figure out what to do because the pressures of life have become so overwhelming. It's time to seek professional help if you:

Feel that stress is affecting your health.
Feel that it will never end.
Feel so desperate that you think about quitting your job, running away, taking a drug overdose, or injuring yourself.
Feel depressed, sad, tearful, or that life is not worth living.
Lose your appetite and find it difficult to sleep.
Are managing your stress level by eating, sleeping, drinking alcoholic beverages, smoking, or using recreational drugs.
Have worries, feeling and thoughts that are difficult to talk about.
Hear voices telling you what to do.
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