Stress is the state of the body when it is made to cope with more strain (physical, mental or emotional) than it can handle or is used to.
Long term or Chronic stress can lead to a number of physical manifestations including frequent headaches, rise in BP, increased load on the heart, palpitations, fatigue and low energy, body pain and muscle tension, digestive complaints, reduction in immunity, decreased sleep, rise in blood sugar, and weight gain. Stress can have an impact on mental and emotional health causing mood swings, anxiety, and depression. Stress can also affect the menstrual cycle in females and sexual drive in both genders.
If your body is giving you signals that it is under stress, try to implement and follow the 10-point approach below. It may sound easier said than done! But use this 10 pointer as a weekly checklist. See how many points you achieved or were able to incorporate. For the ones you could not achieve, it helps to write down the reasons why, and try to follow them the next week.
- Regularize working hours – Define your working hours as much as possible in accordance with what suits your personality, efficiency, and capacity, and do not think of work outside those hours. There may be days when this is not possible, but it is important to aim for and manage this on most working days in a week. If work involves daily arduous commuting, discuss possibilities of working from home on one or two days a week. It is important to note that the duration of work does not correlate with the quality of output, which depends more on working comfort, good health, low stress, and holistic living.
- Take breaks– On every working day, after 2-3 hours of continuous work, take minibreaks of 10-15 minutes for walking around, and performing simple stretch and breathing routines. Every week at least one full day should be reserved for rest, spending with loved ones and rejuvenation. Plan a vacation of a few days every 6 months and take one extended vacation of at least 2-3 weeks every year.
- Use gadgets and technology appropriately – Gadgets like mobile phones, laptops, and social media have become the pivot of our existence. It is important to use them to increase our efficiency, comfort, and connectivity, but also prevent them from becoming a significant contributor to stress. Maintaining correct postures, limiting hours of use with appropriate breaks, incorporating some recommended health precautions and exercises, and modifying techniques of using mobile phones and laptops can help to reduce the associated stress.
- Include Physical Exercise – 30-45 minutes of physical exercise like brisk walking, cycling, yoga, jogging or swimming, should be part of at least 4-5 days in a week. Include 5-10 minutes of breathing techniques and/or meditation in your daily routine.
- Get adequate Sleep – Lack of sleep can worsen stress and vice versa, turning the mutual impact of stress on sleep into a vicious cycle. Make sure you get 8 hours of undisturbed sleep on most nights in a week. If sleep is disrupted on any one night due to any reason, avoid this consecutively on two nights.
- Keep a daily relaxation or leisure time – This should be a technology and work-free hour allotted daily or at least 5 times/week, and apart from your exercise time. This time should include spending time with family and loved ones, engaging in a leisurely or relaxing activity, following a hobby or sport, or socializing.
- Seek help and support – Do not hesitate in discussing your stress, problems, and challenges with family, friends, support groups or a professional counselor, and keep an open mind. This can help put many things in perspective and untie knots, give reassurance and comfort, and also help find solutions to many problems.
- Inculcate positive attitudes – This may sound tough to follow but a daily auto-suggestion of detachment, forgiveness, and empathy helps reduce pent up anger, misgivings, frustration, and anxiousness all of which amount to significant stress. It is good to sometimes list down the stressors, or make a priority ‘to-do list’ to smoothen out overwhelming feelings and situations.
- Eat a Healthy Diet – A healthy and nutritious diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, proteins, yogurt, and plenty of water. Cut down on high sugar items, processed and packaged foods, deep-fried items, too much caffeine, alcohol, and smoking/chewing tobacco. Timely, unrushed meals (lunch break should be at least 30 minutes) with adequate chewing and savoring are important to reduce stress.
- Take Medical Care: Often an underlying medical condition may cause or compound stress, or vice versa. It is important to seek a medical consult in case of persistent symptoms. It is also important to get a medical check-up done annually if one is over 45 years of age. Some common investigations advised for stress are Blood Pressure check, Complete Blood Counts (CBC), Blood sugar, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Thyroid function and ECG. Other routine medical check-up tests include renal and liver function tests. The sheer normalcy of a medical check-up is often a stress-relieving thing in itself while timely detection of any abnormality can help apt treatment and better stress management. The physician will also advise on the need for a course of medicines or supplements to manage the health condition contributing to stress.
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Sometimes you get more, sometimes less
So be sincere, but do not stress
If life begins to seem like a mess
Just pause, breathe and do not suppress
Connect with your health to de-stress
Reach out to loved ones who care and bless
That will help you rejuvenate and harness
The energy and capacity within, to impress
References: AHA stress management