How To destress
What Is This Thing Called Stress ?
It’s not easy to destress, but let’s attempt to do so now.
Every one of us faces different challenges, and different pressures which sometimes we find hard to handle. We sometimes feel overwhelmed and doubt our ability to cope. However, small amounts of stress can act as a motivator to help us perform better in some way, keeping us alert and focused. This is known as healthy stress.
When the stress is more prolonged and is perceived as being beyond our ability to cope, the stress then becomes debilitating and threatens our emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing. This is unhealthy stress.
Let’s look at the definition offered by Lazarus & Folkman (1984) they say stress is ‘a pattern of negative physiological states and psychological responses occurring in situations where people perceive threats to their wellbeing which they may be unable to meet’.
How to destress, Put simply
‘if you are in a situation which you think threatens your health, wellbeing, or needs, and you think there is little you can do about it you have the ingredients for stress’. The important thing is our perception and our perceived ability to cope
How to destress: The Destress Response
We all know what stress feels like and I suspect when in a stressful situation you have had an overwhelming desire to flee or just not be there. This is known as the fight or flight response.
This response involves a cascade of biological changes that release hormones which prepare us for emergency action. These stress hormones include adrenaline and cortisol which race through the blood stream preparing us to either flee, or stay and fight.
What is actually happening here is the blood flow to the larger muscles increases to enable us to run faster or fight harder. Our pupils dilate to enable us to see better, our heart rate increases and so does our blood sugar levels giving us more energy.
The bodily processes that we don’t need at the time are suppressed, such as the digestive and reproduction systems and the immune response is inhibited.
All these biological stress responses are there to protect us.
Is Stress Harmful? – It Depends
Are there any of these life changing events happening in your life now:-
- are you moving house
- suffering due to bereavement
- living in poor accommodation
- having difficulties at work
- having relationship/family problems
All of the above can cause stress, but stress means different things to different people. What one person finds intolerable another may find stimulating. And circumstances change.
When I was young I thought moving was a breeze – a few sticks of furniture, cooking utensils, a flower pot or two - what’s all the fuss about! Did I think this a few years on? The acquisition of more material possessions, a young child, a dog, soon made me realise just how stressful moving house can be.
This type of stress however is normally relatively short term, It’s the long term stresses we have to worry about.
Let’s assume you have lots of worries and responsibilities, or your life style is such that you are running at high stress levels most of the time.
The problem here is that the more activated the stress response, the harder it is to shut down so instead of levelling off once the crisis has passed the hormones stay at a high level, on alert response.
What are The Health Implications?
Now because the hormones stay at a high level so does our heart rate and blood pressure. This obviously can have serious implications on our health. It is therefore essential to learn how to cope with stress in a more positive way to minimise this impact.
The signs and symptoms of stress vary widely from person to person. Some may display predominantly physical symptoms, such as recurring headaches or muscle tension. Others may display emotional symptoms and be irritable, or have mood swings. Another may have persistent negative thoughts, or work performance may be poor in another.
Whatever way, it is important to understand and recognise stress in yourself.
The Stress Prone Personality
Like many other important scientific discoveries this came about while something else was being investigated.
Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman, both cardiologists, were interested in finding out what caused heart problems in their patients. They made a major breakthrough when it became clear to them that some of their patients shared some of the same personality characteristics.
Their research, published in 1974 pointed towards two basic personality types which you will see are diametrically opposed to each other. They labelled the personalities Type A and Type B.
Below we would like you to complete the Stress Prone Personality, do the scoring then look at your Stress Prone Personality Profile.
The Stress Prone Personality
For each pair of phrases, place a tick in the column which you feel represents how you feel. Please think carefully when you assess how close you are to the extreme degrees of the phrases and answer as honestly as you can.
|No interest beyond work||Interest beyond work|
|Always rushed||Never rushed|
|Always tries to win||Don’t care about winning|
|Find concentration hard||Find concentration easy|
|Never relaxed||Always relaxed|
|Don’t sleep well||Always sleep well|
|Always feel tense||Never feel tense|
|Often irritable||Never irritable|
|Always tired||Never tired|
|Worry a lot||Never worry|
|Hide feelings||Express feeling|
|Often have headaches||Never have headaches|
|Eat irregularly||Eat regularly|
|Back and neck muscles ache||Back and neck muscles don’t ache|
|Never satisfied||Always satisfied|
|Often have disagreements||Rarely have disagreements|
|Have few friends||Have many friends|
|Need to get own way||Don’t need to get own way|
|Don’t get on well with family||Get on well with family|
|Don’t listen||Good listener|
|Expect people to fit in with you||Fit in with other people|
|Unhappy at work||Happy at work|
|Feel under valued||Feel valued|
|Not good at teamwork||Good at teamwork|
|Rigid opinions||Flexible opinions|
|Don’t admit to being wrong||Admit to being wrong|
|Rarely smile and laugh||Smile and laugh a lot|
|Don’t exercise||Exercise regularly|
|Don’t seek help from others||Often seek help|
|Envious of others||Not envious|
|Need recognition from others||Don’t need recognition from others|
Look down your list of responses. The more ticks you have towards the left side of the scale, the more you are likely to suffer from the effects of stress. Type A people lie to the left of the scale, Type B to the right. Most of us lie between the two extremes with a tendency towards one or the other.
Type A people are considered the real go-getters of life, often admired by others for their drive and success. Type A people are rarely satisfied with life and are prone to all the problems associated with stress especially heart disease.
Below, the characteristics of the Stress Prone Personality Profile are summarised
|Type AExtremely ambitiousTries to do too muchVery aggressive and competitiveHates losing Never satisfied with their achievementEasily annoyed over trivial thingsWants to get his/her own wayImpatientNeeds recognition and acclaim from othersNot good at showing feelings|
|Type BLaid back approach to lifeLess rushedAble to separate work from playNot competitive Rarely reacts strongly to eventsNot too demanding of others and very tolerantLife not too organised and planned outQuite happy to have plenty of spare time|
|Type B’s are only around 1/7 as likely as Type A’s are tohave a heart attack or to develop heart disease.|
Clearly this is serious business and just to make matters a little more interesting for you we should also point out that:
1. Most of us are a blend of Type A and Type B as opposed to everyone being “pure type”.
2. Although Type A’s face significant health risk compared to Type B’s this does not mean that Type A characteristics are useless and Type B characteristics desirable in all situations. We need both types.
The bottom line is that it is possible for Type A’s to learn some of Type B’s behaviours. (Friedman 1984)
By creating balance using exercise, relaxation, dietary choices and eating behaviours, it is possible for a person to participate in preventative maintenance even while having a good dose of Type A characteristics. For more information on How To Destress just click the banner below