De-stress your life

Monday June 16, 2008

Australians are among the most stressed-out people on the planet. Nearly 80 percent of Aussies say they feel stress on a regular basis.

TODAY life coach Andrew May explains the symptoms of stress and shares his top five tips for managing stress.

"We are definitely facing different catalysts of stress these days and stress is on the rise as a consequence," explains May.

Traditionally, stress was mainly caused by environmental problems such as drought, fire and floods. However, today lifestyle factors and work are causing us to stress out.

"Stress has always excited. However, in the past it came and went — today it's constant," he says.

May believes people feel controlled by work, debt, technology, time and other people's demands which leads to feeling overwhelmed and as though we can't switch off.

"Although different people respond to stress in different ways there are common physical and emotional signs to look out for," he says.

Manifestations of stress generally fall into four categories: physical, mental, emotional and behavioural processes.

Physical symptoms include: fatigue, headache, insomnia, muscle aches/stiffness (especially neck, shoulders and lower back), heart palpitations, chest pains, abdominal cramps, nausea, trembling, cold extremities, flushing or sweating and frequent colds.

Stress can impact our mental processes and lead to decreases in concentration and memory, indecisiveness, mind racing and confusion.

"Another common symptom of stress is the loss of sense of humour," May explains.

On an emotional level stress can lead to feelings of anxiety, nervousness, depression, anger, frustration, worry, fear, irritability and impatience.

"Stress will also impact on behaviour," he explains. "Common characteristics of stress include pacing, fidgeting, increased eating, smoking, drinking, crying, yelling, swearing and blaming others. And in severe cases people can become violent."

May believes in many people stress builds up because people do not take time out to de-stress and unwind.

"Managing stress is an essential skill to thrive in today's frantically paced world," he says. "There are several simple ways to decrease your stress levels which will make an unbelievable difference on your quality of life."

May's top five ways for managing stress include relaxation, taking time out to recharge, asking for help, improving your personal skills and putting things into context.

"A great exercise to reduce stress is to make a list of all the things that make you feel stressed," says May. "Once identified, try and relax in these situations and where possible tackle the source of the stress."

Other stress busting tips include avoiding multi-tasking and doing jobs in order of importance.

"Regular exercise is also great for relaxation," says May. "Cycling, jogging, swimming and working out in the gym are ideal ways of reducing tension caused by stress."

May's top five tips to manage stress

  • Hit the relaxation response: learn techniques like meditation and yoga or try listening to music.
  • Improve skills: stronger communication, organisational and time management skills will all help effectively deal with stressful situations.
  • Big-picture thinking: try and put your stress into context and don't sweat it over the little things.
  • Recharge: take mental and physical breaks. Find ways to escape in your spare time and build in regular holidays and breaks.
  • Ask for help: stick your hand up and ask for help and support.
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