When you are trying to lead a healthy lifestyle it’s not all about healthy eating, nutrition and fitness. There is one factor which many people forget about and this is: managing stress. Stress can affect your health in many ways and it’s really important to manage it otherwise your health can be compromised.
I don’t know much about stress therefore I teamed up with Lee Glynn, Stress Management Trainer, who is also Meditation Teacher and a Life Coach. Lee was happy to answer all my questions about stress, highlighting what stress can do to your body and advising on how to manage it. So, over to Lee now.
1. What is stress and what causes it?
Stress is when the strain or demand is too much for the person to handle, our ability to deal with stress has not evolved from the days when we were living in caves and needed the “Fight or Flight” response to survive. But now in the 21st century, the very response that has kept us alive for millions of years could now be doing us some serious harm.
2. Some people think that stress may cause health conditions such as high blood pressure, headaches, constipation, diarrhoea and even miscarriage. Is there any truth in this?
Stress can cause a number of health problems and from what I can find, there is little evidence that stress can cause a pregnant woman to miscarry, see http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Miscarriage/Pages/Causes.aspx
Extreme outcomes of Chronic Stress can be:
3. What are the signs & symptoms of stress? How does stress affect the body?
Stress can manifest into many physical symptoms such as low energy, headaches – tension headaches, upset stomachs (diarrhoea, constipation, nausea), aches and tensed muscles, chest pains or rapid heartbeat, insomnia, frequent colds and infections, loss of sexual drive, nervousness and shaking, dry mouth and excess sweating, clenched jaw and grinding teeth. Whilst these are considered minor symptoms, more of an annoyance that get in the way of living a continued stressful lifestyle left un-checked, long term, or chronic stress can be extremely damaging to health.
Your body reacts to Stress in many different ways, the main ones are:
- Muscle Tension. When the body is stressed the muscles tense up which is its way of guarding itself against injury and pain. This is a normal bodily response that human beings have used to survive for millions of years, but if the stress is chronic, then this can cause the muscles to stay in a constant state of tension. This chronic muscle tension is associated with tension headaches and migraines, as well as pain in the shoulders and neck.
- Shallow breathing & Frequent sighing. When we’re Stressed our breathing becomes shallow which doesn’t get enough oxygen into the lungs and into the blood system, so the body’s natural response to this is to sigh frequently. I talk more about breathing later on in the interview.
- Feeling overwhelmed. We all feel overwhelmed from time to time but when you’re suffering from Stress, feeling overwhelmed can bring out things like panic and anxiety attacks.
- Sleeping problems. This one is more obvious than the others but no less important, stress has the power to keep you awake at night and a bad night’s sleep can then add to the Stress the day after. As this continues, the feeling of Stress can increase and become more dangerous.
4. You’ve been personally affected by stress. What caused your stress and how did it affect your body?
Yes, I was extremely affected by stress, and it sadly lead to a stress related illness called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which caused me to be off work, unable to walk for 9 months, and then 2 years working part-time because I was still too weak to work full time.
The stress was brought on through a frustrating period at work along with a few issues in my personal life. Before that I was quite a confident person, but as my stress grew, the illness quite quickly took hold until I couldn’t stand up for more than 10-15 minutes.
5. Are there any tests online which people could take to see how stressed they are in life and whether they should do something about it?
There are quite a few online tests which people could take, I have one on my website which your readers can have a look at. As far as I can tell this is the most popular for people looking to identify their level of stress and more importantly, their level of risk of a Stress Related Illness.
6. Do you have any tips on how to deal with stress at work?
Firstly, you need to discipline yourself to tune into your thoughts and emotions, then challenge and question them when they’re taking you down a bad road. Now, this isn’t your new age “positive thinking” nonsense, this is a CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) technique that helps you take control of your negative thinking.
Next, I would say pay attention to your breathing, when we’re stressed our breathing becomes quick and shallow, this is part of the Fight or Flight response to the stressful situation. This shallow breathing can lead to panic and anxiety attacks. Slow deep breaths slow our heart rate down and helps us relax, so “check in” with your breathing a few times a day and make it a routine to take a few slow deep breaths to help keep you at a level of calmness.
Lastly, when you take your break, take a break! It always amazes me when I see people in the work canteen after a stressful morning, moaning to each other, complaining and getting themselves all worked up and stressed out for the afternoon. There is nothing stopping you from breaking away from the group and sitting outside, give yourself time to reduce the stress, go for a walk, do some deep breathing exercises and get yourself in the right frame of mind for the afternoon.
7. What can we do to reduce stress in our lives?
We live in such a fast-paced, stress-filled world and it’s so easy to get caught up in the demands put on us, so reducing the stress in our lives is crucial. We can’t change the outside world but we can change our own little worlds, such as:
- Avoid unnecessary stress. I used to work with a chap who used to run into the building every morning, sometimes just on time but usually late, he was always swearing and he always blamed traffic but refused to leave his house 10-15 minutes earlier.
- Accept the things we can’t change. There are some things we can change in this world and some things we can’t. There is nothing healthy or helpful about stressing and worrying over something you can’t change.
- Work/Life Balance. All work and no play makes one stressed individual! Schedule time for work and more importantly time for getting out and enjoying your time with friends, family and some relaxation.
8. What is stress management and what do you think it’s the most effective stress management technique?
Quite simply, Stress Management teaches you how to control stress so you can live a happier, healthier life.
As corny as this sounds, the 2 most effective techniques are discipline and belief. You can learn all the Stress Management techniques there is, the breathing, the muscle relaxation, the thought challenging, but if you don’t have the discipline to put them in place and keep it up, you’re always going to have the same problems.
You have to believe you can do this. I’m a huge believer of controlling your own destiny and controlling your stress is a huge step in doing this. It’s possible for you to reduce the stress in your life and it’s possible for you to become a happier, healthy, more rounded person.
More about Lee Glynn, Stress Management Trainer
Lee is based in Watford, Hertfordshire and operates in the surrounding areas. If you have any questions about the stress you can email him. He also offers Skype sessions.
Thank you so much to Lee for sharing his knowledge and stress management tips with us. This has been really useful to me personally and I hope you find it useful too!