I am stressed!
Stop stressing me!
Have you ever heard those words or said them yourself? We’ve come to see “stress” as a negative thing, but, is all stress negative? If they’re not all bad, then when does stress become detrimental to our health and productivity?
Let’s start by asking the big question: what is stress?
One dictionary definition for stress is “pressure or tension exerted on a material object”, your body, in this case, being the material object. There are a lot of things that can exert pressure or tension on your body. Work-related stress – travel concerns, coping with demands, dealing with that crazy co-worker or boss, job stability; money worries; children worries – what school is best for them, are they getting the best care, are they being ill-treated; health concerns – coping with an unwell child or family member; dealing with the in-laws; managing the different relationships you find yourself in and having to confront at home, work, as a wife, husband, sister, daughter, etc. Or maybe it is that pressure you have unwittingly placed on yourself. That demand for the 100th aso-ebí this year and the year has only gone halfway, the compulsion to be like the Joneses next door. What about the concern and anger you feel for the cheating partner, how come they have changed so much from the person you married?
As adults, stress/ pressure comes in a lot of ways. Can any of it be positive?
Our bodies are designed to deal with any form of threat – whether real or imagined. The normal functioning body responds by initiating the fight/flight/freeze response. This is also known as the stress response. Imagine being accosted by a wild animal – could be a rat or a lion – you either have to try to subdue it, run away, or stand frozen. To do any of this, your body releases a rush of chemicals – adrenaline/noradrenaline. These chemicals stimulate your body in various ways to perform the necessary action:
- Your heartbeat and respiratory rate increase to pump more blood and oxygen into the parts of our body where they are needed – the muscles of the arms and legs, and the brain.
- Blood flow will reduce to other “unnecessary” parts – the skin, and that is why you feel cold and sweaty.
- The pupils dilate to enable you to see clearly and be more aware of the danger around you.
- You might start to shake or tremble as your muscles tense for action.
All of these are lifesaving mechanisms of defense that the body employs. Cool, right?
The only problem is that this same response that should happen only when needed, also identifies the pressure you feel, be it psychological, financial, social or otherwise, as a threat, same as it would a lion. This response can however be beneficial. It might prompt you to stand back, take stock, make changes and find ways to deal with the situation. It can, in fact, improve your overall performance.
The problem arises when this fantastic system developed to be a protective mechanism stays primed all the time.
Stress impacts you physically, emotionally and mentally. Headaches, muscle tension, sleep problems, feeling tired all the time, and issues with your appetite can manifest as physical symptoms. Emotionally, you can get easily overwhelmed, anxious, irritable and fearful. Your thoughts may race. You worry all the time and have difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
How to deal with stress:
- Take stock and take control. What can you change? Prioritise the problems and start to tackle them from top-down. Ignoring your problems doesn’t ever make them go away.
- Do you really have to be involved in all of those groups in your religious or social group? Must you attend every single programme morning, afternoon and night, 7 days a week, just to be seen as “spiritual”?
- Have a positive mindset. Don’t ever underestimate yourself. Changing something small is better than changing nothing. That sense of achievement will spur you on to tackle the big stuff.
- Set goals. Start small. Go slow.
- Have a support network. “Me and my family” doesn’t work all the time. You need to look beyond yourself. Don’t let your problems push you away. You need positive people around you. I don’t mean that person who will add to your stress by pointing out what you are doing wrong. Why do you think there are more fans than players in a game? You need cheerleaders!
- Exercise. This helps you deal with your emotions and allows you to calmly address the problem. Put down the remote control. Take a walk round the neighbourhood. Join a gym. Get that rope that was used to tie the last bags of rice you bought and start skipping. Challenge the children to a race. That massive compound is not only for parking the fancy cars.
- Take time out for yourself. Look after No.1. That is not being selfish.
- Me-time does not only involve food or drink. Going to hang out and guzzling bottles of alcohol and fish pepper soup, isi-ewu, ice cream, and doughnuts will in the long term do nothing beneficial for your bank balance or your waistline.
- Help other people. Look out for your house help, the driver, gardener, security guard. Talk to them. Find out their problems.
- Practice healthy habits. Eat well. Sleep adequately.
- Finally, accept what you cannot change.
I leave you with the Serenity prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.