Stress used in a positive way is what top athletes and performers use to enhance their performance. With their healthy attitude stress for them is exciting, life-enhancing and enables them to achieve their goals. But the negative aspect of stress can lead to physical and mental illness and can put our bodies into a state of turmoil. We need to recognise stress and stressful situations and learn to control stress if we are to enjoy the rest of our lives. So many of us waste time and effort when we allow ourselves to become worried and stressed – as I know having previously been one of the world’s worst worriers! My mother used to wisely say, “worry is the interest you pay on trouble before it comes” Worry is wasted energy and we need to learn how to plan our lives to avoid stress. We need to discover ways to relax – to chill out – in order to combat stress that we cannot control ourselves. But how do we recognise stress, and what can we do to help ourselves cope with it?
Most people will feel stress to varying degrees if they are confronted with an alarming situation. For example the majority of us would become apprehensive if we were approached by an undesirable character in a deserted dark alleyway. We may immediately think we were about to be attacked and robbed. In this situation our bodies will automatically switch to RED ALERT as we respond to feeling threatened. This triggers off an instinctive reaction. Our muscles will tense up, we will gasp for breathe, and our hearts will beat extremely fast, and hormones will flood into our bloodstream. Our bodies are prepared for action and self-survival, we are ready to fight – or turn on our heels to run away. This instinctive reaction is called FIGHT OR FLIGHT, and this natural tensing up enables us to react immediately to any danger, and it keeps us out of harms way.
However this natural reaction can get out of control, and we may find ourselves overreacting and tensing up in circumstances which don’t warrant it. When things gets out of control we become DISTRESSED, and we may find ourselves unable to cope with even the smallest irritations and situations. Some situations, such as a delayed train or plane, or being stuck in a traffic jam are beyond our control, and we are unable to escape from the tension it causes us. Working long hours and taking work home are signs that we may be working too hard, and cancelling a trip or a holiday because of the job are sure signs of a workaholic under stress. Many of us feel we have too much to do with unrealistic demands made of us, or with impossible deadlines to meet. Perhaps we are unhappy and unfulfilled in what we do, or we don’t enjoy the company of our workmates. Personal relationships at work, or at home can be difficult to cope with, but simply bottling up grievances causes us stress. Whilst these circumstances persist it is very difficult to get rid of pet up emotions, and there may be an increase in blood pressure and stress levels, which is caused by the frequent surges of stress hormones.
We need to find ways to control our stress levels. But first we must recognise the cause of our stress and this can vary greatly from one person to another. Most of us will fall into one of two main personality groups, which doctors call Type A personality or Type B personality. See if you recognise which type you are, by looking at the following patterns of behaviour.
Type A personality
- You are always on the go
- You have an overly busy mind
- You are unable to relax without feeling guilty
- You have an inability to sleep
- You are often impatient
- You have problems concentrating
- You can be argumentative
- You are often irritable
- You can be confrontational
- You interrupt people
- You are a bad listener
- You feel frustrated
- You are indecisive
- You have increased smoking
- You have increased drinking
- You bolt your food
- You neck and shoulders are tense
- Your heart often beats very fast
- You suffer from nervous tummy
- You often feel sweaty
- You can feel panicky
- You often have a dry mouth
Type B personality
- You have a happy disposition
- You stay calm in a crisis
- You are relaxed
- You have an easy manner
- You sleep well
Do you recognise yourself as Type A personality or Type B? Maybe you can’t identify yourself with either type! Perhaps you are a mixture of both types – many people are. Type A’s are likely to be energetic people who are not afraid of hard work, but sadly the chances are they could be suffering from stress in their life. Type B’s are probably relaxed people who are able to cope with life more easily. In order to be less stressed we need to identify the characteristics and behavioural problems of Type A personality and replace them with Type B’s more relaxed attributes. It is not that easy to do, as I well know.
If you are more Type A personality than Type B think about what causes you most stress and do something about it. Think about what makes you irritable and frustrated. Try to avoid situations or people who cause you to get uptight in future. Become more physically active, exercise can help release pent up emotions and encourage a better sleeping pattern. Make a positive effort to cut down on drinking and smoking, it will benefit your general health. Both cigarettes and alcohol only serve as temporary props in coping with life’s difficulties, it would be far better to tackle and deal with the source of the problem itself. One simple but positive way to cut down your stress level, is to learn to prioritise you time. Learning to say “no” on some occasions when excessive demands are made on you is a positive way to avoid stress.
The reality is that if you fall into the Type A category, you are more at risk of heart disease than the Type B personality is. Stress is a major factor in heart disease; we need to control it and to practise relaxing more. Prolonged stress can weaken the immune system and can make us more susceptible to minor infection. Excessive stress can put your body into a state of turmoil and cause other physical and mental illnesses. So look again at the above list and be determined to turn some of those negative attitudes into positive attributes.