Self Help for Stress

This article starts below.

We all have to deal with stress in one form or another. Here is a four-step approach to coping with stress:

Recognize the signs

Stress affects the whole body. Muscular tension can result in headache, neck pain, and back pain. More serious symptoms and disorders from stress include hypertension, migraine, and gastric ulcers. The mind may also be affected by stress and may manifest as vague anxiety or fear, and periods of irritability followed by lethargy. Excessive eating, drinking, and smoking may also be signs of stress.

Identify the cause

After recognizing the signs of stress, it is important to identify the causes of stress. The way we live our life may be the cause of stress. Rushing to work in the morning, working hard to meet a deadline, and multiple demands that require attention are part of our daily routine that may cause stress. Identify and make a list of the stressors that you encounter daily.

Watch your reactions

The same stressor can provoke different responses in different individuals; even one person may react differently at different times. There are three basic ways of reacting to stress, the so-called fight, flight and flow responses. Each works in some situations, none should be considered good or bad in itself, but trouble can start when you habitually rely on just one type of response, even when another might get better results.

Use the descriptions below to identify the ways in which you tend to respond to each of the stressors on your list. If you find that you nearly always respond in the same way, try writing down other ways; consider what the likely effects might be in each case. If they seem favorable, try out your ideas in practice.

Fight response

This has two forms, external and internal. The external one involves assertively meeting problems head-on, sometimes before they arise.

Those who rely on this type of reaction tend to be energetic, ambitious and competitive. Often they are high achievers, constantly pushing themselves to do better, and easily irritated or made impatient by others with a different approach. Typically, they may find it hard to relax and can be at risk from heart disorders.

Problems can be dealt with equally directly by the internal flight response, but people who use it appear unemotional, organized and in control, rather than outwardly aggressive. They tend to have particular, fixed ways of doing things and may object if anyone suggests a change.

Flight response

Problems are avoided whenever possible, by pretending that they do not exist or by giving up and letting someone else deal with them. At best, this can make us careful and cautious; at worst, not in control of our lives and dependent on others.

Those who use the flight response too often may never realize their full potential or learn to express their feelings to others. Dangers include isolation, withdrawal and, in extreme cases, feelings of despair.

Flow response

This involves accepting the stressor without either fighting or running away form it. The idea is to flow with the tide, letting the feelings of the moment guide you.

The danger here is one of appearing to be vague, without fixed values and beliefs. You may find it hard to make firm decisions and take action; you may even come to feel that nothing really matters.

Develop a holistic approach

Once your stress responses are under control, consider a wider, more long-term approach to the problem. Overall harmony and well-being is something to work for throughout life and is never complete, but stress experts suggest these first steps:

Be constantly aware of stressors and stress responses in everyday life. Look after yourself by eating a balanced diet, taking regular exercise and getting a good night's sleep. Opt for compromises rather than extreme or one-sided solutions to problems. Get help from other people and suitable groups when you need it. Practice a form of relaxation and breathing, yoga or meditation every day. Express your feelings to others.

You can also draw up a personal life plan, an overall view of your life as a whole, including your birth, achievements, major landmarks such as marriage and children, serious illness, where are you now, goals and aspirations for the future and, finally, your death. This can give you a broader perspective on present problems and help you to plan ahead for future stressful times.

Excerpt from Living with stress and staying well, Guide to Alternative Medicine.