By Dr Jobin Rajan Benjamin
Stress is a normal and natural part of everyone’s life. You can’t avoid it, so how do you manage it?
We encounter stress every day, in driving through traffic, falling behind schedule and managing big projects. We must learn for how to deal with stress in order to lead a more productive and a happy life. Studies have shown that significant part of the medical illnesses today has been caused due to unaddressed stress. Stress is not a medical condition but it can definitely lead to a serious illness if not addressed properly. Hyperacidity is caused by the over production of gastric acid which is influenced and aggravated by repeated skipping of meals or present emotional state. Environmental factors such as personal tension and sedentary lifestyle contributes to the development of Obesity, now considered a medical condition. Arthritis, on the other hand, is caused by overloading the weight bearing joints with excessive weight or exposure to prolonged repetitive movements.
Stress is the non -specific response of the body to any demand for change. Stress level varies from one person to another and depends on ability of one accepting the challenges brought by the stress. One’s inability to adjust and manage his/her respective stress can lead to fatigue which is the extreme tiredness, resulting from any physical, mental, emotional exertion or illness. This would initially start with minor symptoms, such as forgetting one or two daily tasks, stomach upset or even headache. This then leads for the person to self-medicate or make minor adjustment in his daily living to alleviate the problem. But as the stress remains unmanaged and the workload or working hours gets more demanding, the physical, mental and emotional manifestations gets more evident.
Who are at high risk?
Those who are new at their job.
Those who have little opportunity to use their skills and who have little authority over decisions.
Those who have little control over their work.
Those who have heavy workloads.
Those who have pre - existing illness such as Hypertension, Diabetes, Asthma or anything similar.
Stress is the product of overload from work, anxiety, fear, worry, illness, injury, or trauma. It has also been noted that major life events can be considered significant precipitants of stress such as financial difficulties, job changes, relationship discord and death of a family member. Positive events such upcoming weddings, can also have an impact and serve as a powerful stressor to the person.
Unfortunately, majority of us would initially fall for the unhealthy ways of coping with stress such as smoking too much, over or under eating, isolating oneself from friends and family members and procrastinating to name a few.
Early Effects of Stress
* Body Complaints
* Headache and nape pain
* Muscle tension or pain
* Chest pain
* Change in libido
* Stomach discomfort
* Sleep disturbances
* Lack of motivation
* Difficulty in focusing on task at hand
* Easily angered
* Sadness or depression
* Eating too much or eating less
* Angry outbursts
* Drug abuse
* Tobacco use
* Social withdrawal
Without effective intervention, stress continues without relief. Fatigue then ensues which may further lead to exhaustion, burnout, depression, illnesses, chronic pain and degeneration of the immune system. Moreover, a person can also show signs of disruptive behaviour and thereby losing one’s situational awareness that is the constant state of knowing what is going on in your immediate environment, why it is happening and what is likely to happen next.
Medically, people who fall from repetitive and unresolved stress would usually manifest recurrent respiratory tract infections, tension and migraine headaches, hypertension, impotence, insomnia, digestive disorders, musculoskeletal pains, diabetes mellitus and obesity, to name a few.
How to manage your stress?
Be active: Exercise or engage oneself to a new sport. Exercise and sports encourages us to be in the right state of mind. A good sweat allows us to feel the sense of achievement.
Connect with people: Having a stable support network of friends and family, builds one’s confidence. This support network allows us to have a venue or the go to person where we can ventilate our feelings and listen to sound suggestions from people whom we love and trust.
Avoid unhealthy habits: Since stress can be repetitive and prolonged, exposure to unhealthy habits will only hasten the development of medical illnesses, which will further add to the piled up stressors, one is already facing. Eat healthy and avoid vices.
Work smarter, not harder: Learn to delegate. Organise your work. Know your co-workers. They may be able to give you pointers on how you can be efficient with your tasks. Systematising work allows working at full potential without overworking. This takes time, but be patient.
‘Me time’: Yoga, massage, tai chi, meditation, praying, reading a good book, allows us to free our minds or reminds of our responsibilities and difficulties. It also allows us to focus our minds and at times find solutions to our stressors.
Do charity work: Nothing beats giving a piece of you to the betterment of the helpless. Donating old clothes, volunteering in soup kitchens, giving gifts to orphanages or retirement homes are but a few ways where we can give a piece of our hearts and reap the return of their overwhelming gratitude.
Accept things you cannot change: This one is a little harder to do. But it is true and not all things can be managed by us. Trust in time that things will get better and will unfold as to how life dictates it to be.
Seek professional help: Your general practitioner can assist in identifying the potential stressor that has been causing your medical complaint/s. Your doctor can request you to undergo the necessary tests and suggest ways to address such stressors.
Message: Life will never be stress free. There will always be something or someone to challenge us and our capabilities as a person working through life and for life. We must then surround ourselves with positive people and be always aware that something can be done or someone out there can help us during the difficult times.
* Dr Jobin is working as a Specialist- Internal Medicine at Aster Hospital, Doha
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