From stressed-out to nicely stressed

Stress leave costs the country tens of millions of dollars a year. There’s one good thing about stress, though: If you didn’t have any, you’d probably be dead. Stress is a natural and normal part of life and in fact, some stress is good for you — it’s motivating, makes you feel alive and gives you the drive to succeed.

But too much stress is debilitating. It drains your energy and undermines your body, your emotions and your ability to think clearly and quickly. The effects of too much stress over long periods can be toxic, acting like slow poison and building up, altering your body and your brain.

That’s why it’s important to recognise when you’re stressed and deal with it. When you don’t, it isn’t just you who suffers — it’s those around you, too.

Your first course of action when you recognise you’re stressed is to remove or reduce whatever it is that’s causing you stress in the first place. Of course, you can’t always do that; throttling your boss would land you in jail and you’d be even worse off.

So when you can’t remove or reduce whatever it is that’s stressing you, your next course of action is to learn to deal with it more effectively. There are two main ways you can do that:

  1. Change the way you look at and think about the source of your stress. It’s often how you view a situation or an even that makes it stressful. Your boss is always looking over your shoulder? See it as making sure you’re ok and trying to be available in case you need any help. Better? Ok, you may have to work at it, but a different frame of mind and sending yourself different messages about what’s stressing you can often be just what the doctor ordered.
  2. Don’t allow your stress levels to build up. Learn to recognise your own symptoms of stress and when they strike, do something. Stiff shoulders? Roll them around a few times. Shallow breathing? Take three deep breaths. Hands clenched in a fist? Shake them loose and relax them. Take a break. Do something constructive with your pent-up energy — take a walk, hit the gym, stroll in the park — whatever you need to do to clear your mind and calm jagged nerves. When you break the stress response early on, you have a good chance of preventing your stress from escalating and causing serious behavioural, emotional and health problems.

When all else fails, undertake some form of stress management, be it regular exercise, meditation, yoga or relaxation training. This is a longer-term solution that can prevent stress from making you ill and also improve your overall health and well-being.

The main thing is to get on top of stress as soon as you can. You don’t want to let it build up and become increasingly debilitating and difficult to deal with.