Manage your stress and live longer

We can’t avoid stress in this modern age of instant gratification and constant demands. The good news is that health specialists say we can control how it affects us by changing our perceptions, which can help to reduce stress-related illnesses like depression and heart disease.

Peter Jordan, Principal Officer of Fedhealth, says it is time to change our attitudes towards negative stress if we want to stay healthy. Jordan says that while good stress can make you more productive and creative, you cannot maintain a level of high stress for too long. “Should your stressors not let up, you could be heading for burnout,” he comments. “Having said that, if you can change your perception of stress and adapt to your stress, you can help alleviate the negative and focus on the positive.”

Stephanie Sterner, author of Set Your Boundaries Your Way, says we all need a certain amount of stress in order to enjoy life. Without it, we would become depressed and bored. She says there really is no such thing as ‘stress’ unless we believe that something unpleasant will happen.

“Simply put, stress, whether we admit it or not, is our emotional response to a situation. If you feel empowered and assured of your abilities, you will automatically be able to accept the challenge that is presented to you, taking it in your stride, rather than allowing it to get the better of you. This explains why two people can react so differently to the same type of challenge, even when their skills are similar,” says Jordan.[/blockquote3]

Stress is a physical response to danger – whether real or imagined – and the body goes into a ‘fight or flight’ mode. Stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol are secreted, the heart rate increases to supply more blood to the muscles and lungs, the respiratory rate increases in an attempt to deliver more oxygen to the cells and mental alertness is improved.

Jordan explains that there is good stress and bad stress. “Good stress is known as ‘eustress’. In this situation, the psychological response is used positively to enhance performance, and then the body returns to its resting state. Bad stress or ‘distress’ is what happens when your body perceives a situation as negative, or when the stress response is severe or prolonged,” he comments. “This can have negative physical effects on the body, manifesting as headaches, nausea, heart palpitations or, in chronic cases, physical and emotional illness.”

Other side effects of acute stress are conditions like anxiety, insomnia, obesity, depression, mood disorders, alcoholism and substance abuse.”

According to the SA Heart Foundation, 75-90% of all patient visits to primary health care facilities are stress related and a UCT study estimated the cost of cardiovascular disease in SA is currently around R10-bn.

Jordan recommends these emergency stressbusters:

  1. Take supplements like vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant, and vitamin B which help to balance stress hormones and regulate energy levels.
  2. Magnesium is often referred to as ‘nature’s tranquilliser’ and liquorice is the best-known herb for supporting adrenal function and has been found to increase energy and endurance.
  3. Limit caffeine which increases blood pressure.
  4. Get regular exercise which produces endorphins, is a natural anti-depressant and prevents insomnia.
  5. Stick to a healthy diet as a balanced diet will regulate blood sugar.
  6. Get enough sleep – adults need eight hours per day to recharge the body.
  7. Useful relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation can also help to reduce stress levels and encourage a calm state of mind.
  8. Managing stress is also about taking control of your thoughts and reviewing the way you deal with perceived problems.

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Compiled on behalf of Fedhealth by Cathy Findley Public Relations