The Contemporary Nigerian lifestyle is generally characterized by hassles, tight schedules, demands, deadlines and frustrations which have made stress a common occurrence in this part of the world. Stress in itself is not bad actually a little dose is recommended to help one perform optimally, achieve set goals and ultimately bring out the best in you (positive stress). Our bodies are designed to handle small doses of stress, but we are not equipped to handle long-term, chronic stress without ill consequences.
Stress is the body's normal reaction to events and conditions that make one feel threatened and/or disrupt the body balance. When you sense harmful situations -- whether real or perceived, a physiological reaction occurs in your body that allows you to act in a way to prevent injury. This is known as "fight-or-flight” reaction or the stress response. During stress response, your heart begins to race, breathing quickens, muscles tighten and blood pressure rises, ready to act to protect yourself.
The stress response helps you stay focused and energetic in an emergency situation and also helps you rise to meet challenges. Stress is what keeps you motivated to meet tight project deadlines, gives you focused concentration during rush -hour traffic, keeps you alert during a football game, helps you step on the car brakes when you sense a collision or motivates you to study for a professional certification when you'd rather be hanging out with friends/ colleagues.
Beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, your mood, your productivity, your relationships, and your quality of life. A lot of people live in denial of stress overload; this can be very detrimental if not adequately managed.
Symptoms, signs and causes:
The first step to controlling stress is to know the symptoms, but recognising stress symptoms may be very difficult. This is because most of us are so used to being stressed that we often don't recognize stress factors until we are at the breaking point.
Stress Overload can affect all aspects of your life: emotions, behaviour, thinking ability and physical health. No part of the body is immune, but, because people handle stress differently, symptoms of stress can vary.
If you’re experiencing any of the warning signs of stress below, see or talk to a doctor for a full evaluation. Your doctor can help you determine whether or not your symptoms are stress-related.
Physical symptoms of include:
· Low energy or fatigue
· Diarrhoea, constipation and nausea
· Headaches, Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
· Insomnia (lack of sleep)
· Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
· Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear
Behavioural symptoms include:
· Changes in appetite (either not eating or eating too much)
· Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities
· Increased use of and dependence on alcohol, cigarettes and drugs
· Exhibiting nervous behaviour, such as nailbiting, fidgeting and pacing
Emotional symptoms include:
· Becoming easily agitated, frustrated and moody
· Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control
· Having difficulty relaxing
· Low self-esteem
· Sense of loneliness or isolation
Cognitive symptoms include:
· Constant worrying; moodiness
· Anxious; Inability to focus (Memory problems)
· Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side
A Way Out: Stress Management
This involves changing the stressful situation when you can, changing your reaction and mind-set when you can’t, taking care of yourself, and making time for rest and relaxation.
Your ability to tolerate and manage stress is helped by certain positive factors such as Good Quality relationships, a positive outlook on life, and better emotional intelligence to mention a few.
The following can help to influence your stress tolerance level and help you cope with stress:
- Develop a strong support network of family and friends
- Improve your attitude; develop an optimistic outlook
- Read the right books
- Look after your health. (Eat regular nutritious meals; avoid foods high in fat, sugar and salt).
- Stay away from drugs, which might give temporary relief but eventually only add to your stress load.
- Get enough sleep and rest
- Talk it out with somebody: A family member, friend, clergy person, counsellor or the health providers are recommended.
- Keep your sense of humor. Even some of our most stressful experiences can still be good for a laugh.
- Get away from it all, even for short periods of time; take a vacation.
- Learn to manage your time better; eliminate surplus activities and commitments.
- Set goals. The everyday stresses and strains of life are easier to cope with when you can see where you are going. Read books about how to achieve your set goals, to help you prepare better for challenges ahead.
- Learn how to deal with emotions; events will always occur to put pressure on you.
- Develop an ability to deal with your emotions; have a sense of control.
- Learn relaxation techniques; take up a hobby that makes you happy,
- listen to music that helps you relax
- Get involved in a sporting activity to help you exercise and relax
All these suggestions are easier said than done. But they are offered as ways to cut down on the stress overload, which we all feel from time to time.
Causes of stress
The factors or situations that cause stress are known as stressors, anything that puts high demands on you or forces you to adjust can be stressful. Any event can trigger stress overload depending on ones’ perception of it and their tolerance level. Stress can be caused by external factors such as challenging work, major life changes, relationship difficulties, financial problems, and family; or internal factors such as pessimism, lack of assertiveness, inability to accept uncertainty or unrealistic expectations. Sometimes stress overload can be self-generated.
Effects of Stress Overload
The body doesn’t distinguish between physical and psychological threats; it recognizes them as the same and therefore triggers the stress response. If you are going through a long-term difficulty, your stress response may be constantly activated and after a while it is difficult to shut off so it remains activated leading to stress overload. Stress overload interrupts nearly every system in your body. It can raise blood pressure; which also causes insomnia, suppress the immune system; increase the risk of heart disease and cardiovascular events (e.g. Stroke), contribute to infertility, obesity, digestive problems (e.g. stomach ulcers) and ultimately speeds up the aging process. Long-term stress can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression. Stress Overload leaves one prone to accidents and sub-optimal performance, especially in the workplace due to a lack of alertness and concentration.
It is therefore important to look out for these signs in our friends, family members and colleagues so they get help immediately before they hurt themselves or those around them. I wish you all a stress-free February.
Written by O’ Reese of En-pact Solutions Limited, 2013