February 2013

The fight against stress, today’s no. 1 “illness”

Stress is a natural answer of your body to an unexpected situation but if not eliminated it can turn into a threat to one’s health. Here are some tips to combat it before seeking the help of a professional.

By: Joanna Filejski
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Schleswig-Holstein - Germany


One of the most common reasons for constant stress is too much work
Photo: Ximena Noya

According to a number of medical websites stress occurs at any time when a thought or situation makes you feel frustrated, anxious, nervous or angry. It is the body’s natural response to a change that requires a physical, mental or emotional reaction. Stress is not always bad; in fact, it is very helpful in extreme situations. For example, stress can help you lift a heavy weight squishing another person or gives you the strength to run far longer than usually to get away from a dangerous situation. However, the bad, constant stress most people are experiencing comes from demands from the in- and outside, they are either put upon by a person by him- or herself or by family, friends or society. Stress has a negative outcome when it gets out of control and cannot be managed any longer by the person experiencing it.

To avoid stress you should try to avoid the people who stress you and do not say, “yes” to everything, but know your limits. Cut out things from your daily tasks that are not necessary, but should be done and see if you can do them on a different day with more time.

Effects on the body

When the body experiences stress a row of stress hormones begin to work. When the stress situation dissolves again, so do the stress hormones. Stress can make you sick if these hormones stay because the external circumstances do not change. This leads to a number of negative effects on the body. Some affect the stomach and the intestines, for instance stomach aches, diarrhoea, costiveness and gas. Other aches are often felt in the head or back area. The skin may also react with allergies, rashes or oral herpes. In some cases tinnitus, sudden deafness or even cardiovascular diseases can appear. Mental effects include aggressions, irrational fears and mood swings, which ultimately can lead to depression. Other symptoms are weariness, sleeplessness and lack of concentration. The effects on the body caused by stress can be very severe and should not be ignored. The ultimate result of too much stress is burnout, a state many people have suffered from.

How you combat it

Before reaching the state of needing help from a professional there are many things one can do to lower his stress level. They can be divided into three groups: self-help, self-management, and meditation.


Many people struggle everyday with stress
Photo: Taisuke Azuma

One of the things under the category of self-help is exercise. Regular exercise works as an antidepressant and is also a great sleeping aid as the body gets exhausted and needs rest. Alcohol and drugs are also suboptimal, so if you are stressed you should either diminish your consumption or abstain completely. Another simple way to reduce stress is to set aside some time every day just for you. This time can be used to organize your life and relax, forgetting about the things that cause the stress. Probably the most effective way to combat stress is to eliminate its source. Talking to the family, boss or co-workers or whoever is involved in the stress causing about your thoughts and worries and trying to find solutions together will help to get rid of it.

What stress management does is that it helps you to either remove or change the root of stress. To manage your stress there are four options: avoid, alter, adapt to or accept the stressor. To avoid stress you should try to avoid the people who stress you and do not say, “yes” to everything, but know your limits. Cut out things from your daily tasks that are not necessary, but should be done and see if you can do them on a different day with more time.

Yoga has been proven as a good way to sort your thoughts and reach a state of relaxation which allows you to forget about your stress.

To alter stress means to change an unavoidable stress situation. This usually means you have to change the way you communicate or act in a long way and change habits. If something bothers you for example, speak openly about it instead of keeping it to yourself as otherwise anger can be built up. If you ask someone to change their behaviour, you need to be willing to do the same and find a middle ground both parties can live with. A big cause of stress is poor time management; so learn to manage it better. It’s hard to stay focused if everything is done in the last second, so try to plan ahead and not overwork yourself.

To adapt to a stressor means to change your reaction to stressful situations. For example see things that cause stress in a more positive way. A traffic jam does not only mean running late for work, but also to have some time for yourself and listen to your favourite radio station. Also try to look at the situation from a distance. Will it be of importance in a month or a year and therefore is it really worth getting upset about something? If the answer is no, try to focus your time and energy on something else. Another cause of stress is the pursuit of perfectionism. Try to set reasonable standards for yourself and learn to be pleased with “good enough” instead of always wanting to be perfect. An additional simple strategy to adapt to stress is to take a moment to reflect on the good things in life when stress is getting you down. Try to think of all the things you appreciate in life, your positive qualities and gifts.


Yoga is a form of meditation which helps release stress
Photo: Taisuke Azuma

To accept stress means to learn to deal with situations, which are unavoidable. Things that fit into this category is for instance the death of a loved one, a serious illness, national recession or alike. Acceptance in these cases is of course not easy, but in the long run you will see that it is more complicated to fight against something you cannot change instead of accepting it. This also counts for the behaviour of other people. Since you cannot control their actions, learn to accept their ways instead of getting upset over them because they act in a different way than you would in the given situation.

To avoid stress you should try to avoid the people who stress you and do not say, “yes” to everything, but know your limits. Cut out things from your daily tasks that are not necessary, but should be done and see if you can do them on a different day with more time.

The last thing to do to combat stress before it gets out of control is meditation. What has been known in the Eastern cultures for centuries has now been rediscovered by Western medics and psychologists. There are different forms to do it. Yoga has been proven as a good way to sort your thoughts and reach a state of relaxation which allows you to forget about your stress. It has been scientifically verified that just one 20 minute meditation session a day can have positive effects on your health. At first it can be quite hard to reach the state of relaxation, but with a little practice you learn to not think about anything and just concentrate on your breathing for a certain time and thus combat stress. Do not let stress take over and learn to deal with it with some simple changes in your life. If, however, the stress becomes too much, do not hesitate to seek the help of a professional, because otherwise you might be the next victim of today’s number one “illness”.

Michelle Dechellete
There is a narrow stone passage at the bottom of San Pedro hill. While walking down it, you can feel quietness all around you and suddenly a colourful house welcomes you to a world of creativity. That is Michelle’s Dechellete painting atelier, a place where there are masks, books, puppets, flowers, colours and drums; everything invites you to express yourself.
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