Wow what a week it was last week during National Psychology Week! National Psychology Week is an initiative that is run by the Australian Psychological Society (APS) and aims to promote psychology and psychological services around the nation. It is a time where several clinicians get involved to take part. The theme for National Psychology Week this year was Stress and Well-being. So on the back of that, we thought we would share some insights with you on managing stress, especially at this time of year!
While some stress is good for us, it can be problematic if it is prolonged. Stress can mask itself in many different ways and can lead to difficulties with our thoughts, feelings, behaviours, and with our body. When stress affects us emotionally it can mask itself as depression, anxiety, agitation, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, and low self-esteem. Because of this, it is often missed as a factor and it can maintain the problem if it is not treated. When stress creates behavioural problems, then it can lead to changes in appetite (either eating too much or losing your appetite), avoidance, procrastination, nervousness (fidgety, nail biting, jaw clenching), and increased use of drugs and/or alcohol. All of these can then go on to affect a person's mood and self-esteem. From a physical perspective, stress can create all sorts of difficulties from constant headaches, stomach problems, and rapid heart beat, to low energy, muscle tension, difficulty sleeping, and frequent colds and infections. Lastly, prolonged stress can affect the way we perceive the world around us. We can often experience racing thoughts, constant worry, forgetfulness, disorganisation, difficulty concentrating and indecision. Put together, stress seems like something we need to avoid! However as mentioned earlier, some stress is actually good for us. This is because it creates what we refer to as an 'optimal level of arousal', which is just a fancy way of saying that we are alert and able to focus. Unfortunately we cannot eradicate stress entirely, but what we can do is manage it.
Everything sounds wonderful in theory, however the management of stress can be tricky. For stress management to be effective, it needs to be applied in a consistent and repetitive manner. For example, it's no use if you want to become a body builder but only go to the gym once a week and not change anything else. If we want to see results, we need to be ready mentally to put the right steps in place to ensure that change occurs. Our actions need to be consistent and repetitive. It takes a lot of effort in the beginning, but like anything else, it doesn't take long for new habits to take hold. Below are our top five techniques that we think would be worth trying in order to better manage stress.
1. Maintain a regular diet. We all know how important it is to maintain a balanced diet. If you want to avoid hanger (anger induced by hunger) and feeling irritable, then this might just well be effective in decreasing your stress. Planning your food for the week and taking left overs to work or school is a great way to ensure that you have plenty of fuel throughout the day.
2. Maintain a regular sleep pattern. It has been established for some time now that getting regular sleep that is between 8-10 hours is important for our daily functioning. This is indeed the case, however importantly, it seems that maintaining a type of pattern is even more effective. That is, if we are able to go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time each day (yes, even on the weekends!), then we'll be helping our bodies immensely. Moreover, going to bed before midnight (where possible) ensures that we're getting some good quality sleep.
3. Stay social. Most of us are aware that Adrenalin and Cortisol are two hormones that play a big role in maintaining the stress response cycle. Unfortunately, people are less aware of Oxytocin as a hormone that also plays a role in the stress response cycle. Unlike Adrenalin and Cortisol however, Oxytocin plays a role in repairing the damage done by stress. Oxytocin is naturally released when we make eye contact with others, when we cuddle with others, and when we are talking it out with trusted supports.
4. Laugh it out. Laughter plays a powerful role in reducing the levels of Adrenalin and Cortisol in our bodies which means that it also reduces levels of stress. Laughter is another fantastic and enjoyable way that we can naturally release endorphins.
5. Keep moving. Similar to laughter, movement, whether it be a quick walk around the block, a series of stretches, or putting on your favourite tunes and dancing around the house, is a highly effective way in managing stress as it too reduces the levels of Adrenalin and Cortisol and increases our natural endorphins.
As mentioned earlier, managing stress is easier said than done because it can be complicated by other issues. We hope these quick strategies will be able to take the edge off so that you are better able to tackle other issues that may be adding to your stress levels. If you feel that stress is an ongoing difficulty in your life, then our clinicians will be more than happy to help you out.
Until next time... Dr Celin Gelgec and the team from Melbourne Wellbeing Group