When chronic stress looms large, you are going to need some survival tips to get through it.
Obviously the quickest approach is to address the root of the problem and eliminate the source of stress.
Cause of Stress
According to The American Institute of Stress (AIS) in a 2001 survey, job-related stress is the most common cause of chronic stress in North Americans, and it seems to be that way for most of the industrialized world. And simply changing your job isn't always easy as 1, 2, 3.
Understanding your own stress response and taking a holistic approach to supporting yourself may be the best approach.
Good Stress vs Bad Stress
Since stress and anxiety can go hand in hand we need to understand the different kinds of stress -- negative and positive.
How Can Stress Be Positive?
The term "eustress" was introduced by the endocrinologist Hans Selye to differentiate positive stress (eustress) from negative stress (distress). Examples of positive stress or "eustress" include things that push, challenge or stretch us, such as taking a course, starting a new fitness regime, or saving up for a vacation.
Examples of negative stress or "distress" include financial worries, illness, the loss of a job, or a relationship breakup. These are the sorts of stress that lead us to feeling overwhelmed, tired and frustrated.
Are You Stressed?
Take a look at your life and decide how the balance of your stress is looking. If you have 20% negative stress and 80% positive stress, then that's manageable for most people. If you have 80% negative stress and 20% positive stress, you may be under a great deal of pressure and more at risk of experiencing health problems.
Studies from Carnegie Mellon University in the USA show that chronic negative stress wreaks havoc on our bodies, making us more susceptible to viral infections as well as other chronic illnesses.
Instead of lumping all types of "stress" into one category, look at all the positive and negative stresses in your life. How they balance is what counts. See what you can do each week to tip that balance in favor of positive stress.
Nutrition is a top survival tip for chronic stress. How you handle stress depends a lot on the quality of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals and vitamins that you eat each day.
While supporting yourself with good whole foods and lots of fruits and vegetables is important, there are also some dietary measures that can support you during chronic stress. Stress plays havoc on the physical body. Using good nutrition, you can target the specific systems and organs that are the most important to staying relaxed and healthy.
Adrenal glands: These small glands sit on top of each of your kidneys, secreting most of the hormones and chemicals that control your stress response. When stress becomes chronic, the adrenal glands can become fatigued from the effort, leading to feelings of exhaustion.
To keep the adrenal glands fit, be sure to include nuts, seeds, whole grains (rich source of vitamin B5), and nutritional yeast in your diet. Licorice root tea may also support adrenal gland health.
Brain: Your brain is uniquely sensitive to the foods you eat. Stress increases inflammatory chemicals in the body that can damage nervous system tissues. To protect the brain and enhance relaxation, eat bananas (to boost feel-good hormones), beans, seafood (for omega 3 fatty acids), nuts and seeds (for their high mineral content), and dark leafy vegetables.
Heart: One of the most noticeable effects of stress is the increases in blood pressure and heart rate. Studies show that chronic stress can damage the heart and increase the risk of cardiovascular damage. To protect the heart, reduce consumption of animal produce, eat fresh or frozen berries, dark leafy greens, dietary fibre, seafood, and a mix of bright, colorful vegetables.
Herbal teas like passionflower, oatstraw, rhodiola, and withania may also help to reduce stress naturally.
Ask For Help
Asking for help can help to reduce the amount of chronic stress you're experiencing. Too often we attempt to be all things to all people at all times: A top student, a productive employee, a marvelous wife or husband, a responsible parent, a good son or daughter, neighbor and citizen.
While this sort of pressure has long been linked to increased mood problems and cardiovascular disease in men, more and more women are now noticing it too. According to Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz, author of "The Superwoman Syndrome" women are more than ever being expected to perform well in multiple life roles, which leads to a huge increase in negative stress.
Managing Your Stress Levels
How much of your stress is avoidable? How much on your to-do list can you delegate to someone else? Be realistic and know what is important to you. Get someone to help out with the gardening so you can focus on spending time with family, if that is what is important to you. If the gardening feels like an important part of who you are as a person, then ask a relative or a close friend to look after your kids for a little while, or better yet, get the kids involved!
Look at your to-do list and decide what only you can do, and what can be done by someone else. Then ask for help. More often than not, people are all too willing to lend assistance -- it makes them feel needed and valued -- if you would only ask them.
Break Up the Day
Chronic stress will eventually exhaust you if you can't get a break. The best thing is to target the source of the stress and make changes to relieve the stress. Too often this is not possible, at least right away.
When the only way out is through, sit down and make a list of all the things in your life that are important to you. What makes your heart sing? What do you look forward to doing "one day" when you get time? It might be learning a language, cooking, spending time with family, reading, art, playing video games, or sports.
Whatever your list includes, these are the things that inject joy into your life. It might feel impossible when stress is high and time is low, but this is exactly when these "happy list" items are most crucial. Find small ways of including them into your life each day, especially on the high-pressure days.
Listen to a self-hypnosis recording, a language CD or an audio book; walk to a museum or a library on your break; make art doodles while on the phone; join a sports team, or cook something delicious for your co-workers. All this gives you tiny islands of moments that you can look forward to each day. Suddenly the to-do list doesn't feel so overwhelming, and chronic stress is broken up into smaller fragments that you can manage.
Peter Field is a leading U.K. therapist and counselor. His hypnotherapy Birmingham website contains more of his useful articles. Peter's powerful Stress Reduction hypnosis MP3 instant download is now available.