By Dr Karen Hallam
Stress is a normal part of life. A little bit of stress helps motivate us to meet deadlines, face new challenges and juggle the many competing challenges we face on a daily basis. Unfortunately, stress can become distress if we are facing multiple and constant stressors.
Managing distress is an important tool for our long-term health. Evidence indicates that chronic stress can be related to health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and even forms of cancer, as well as reduced mental health.
There is a lot of advice out there on managing stress, but a few golden rules will help you tailor your own stress management to your style and needs.
Take care of your body
Stress changes our internal chemistry through its activity on both chemical and hormonal messengers. To rebalance our bodies, we need to do pretty much the opposite of what our stress is telling us to do by taking care of ourselves.
By continuing to nurture our bodies with healthy foods, good sleep routines and gentle exercise we are doing our best to stay resilient to the impacts of stress. Importantly, while alcohol or other non-prescribed medications may feel they help to manage stress, evidence indicates that these may actually make mental and physical health worse in the medium and long term.
Take notice of the signs of stress
One of the first steps to better managing stress is being able to notice when you are feeling it. It helps when you feel stressed or people notice this in your behaviour that you take a moment to notice your physical and psychological symptoms. Once you have noticed these, you can then activate some of your stress-management menu items to reduce these symptoms.
Importantly, it is also worth noticing any specific triggers that have preceded the stress symptoms so that you can work on these directly as well. If you are stressed about a lot of things and these worries feel pretty constant, it might also be worth speaking to a health professional to get further advice.
Make your own stress management menu
While it is often easy to talk about specific strategies, these can be a little cliché. Take the example of having a ‘nice, warm bath’ to relax. If someone is into this strategy, it may be a great way to de-stress after a challenging day. If they aren’t though, it may simply add another stress on top of the others.
The simple solution to this is to develop a stress management menu. To do this, take some time to write down 6 to 10 things that help you unwind. It is important to consider both simple and quick strategies that you can use at any time as well as bigger ones that you might be able to plan towards and look forward to.
Having this list saved somewhere convenient such as your phone means that when you notice you are feeling stressed, you can be prompted to use strategies that are tailored for you and suit how much time and energy you have. Importantly, consider keeping these up even when you aren’t as stressed to keep check of your overall stress levels.
About Dr Hallam
Dr Karen Hallam is a Mental Health Advisor for Moving Mindz and the Principal Clinical Psychologist at Northcote Consulting in Melbourne. You may contact Dr Hallam through Moving Mindz or via firstname.lastname@example.org.