Experiencing stress overload? Here’s how to reduce it

Experiencing stress overload? Here’s how to reduce it

Published on 26th November, 2020 at 02:18 pm

As stress becomes increasingly part of our day-to-day lives, taking the time to manage the condition effectively is becoming increasingly important. Learn all about stress, including its effect on your health, the signs and symptoms of stress overload, and how to protect yourself, here.

South Africa is the second most stressed country in the world, according to a Bloomberg Business survey. Equally as frightening were the finds of a national survey was conducted in 2020 by pharmaceutical firm Pharma Dynamics, aimed at understanding how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected mental health in the country. It showed that 56% of adults are experiencing higher levels of emotional and psychological stress than they were before the pandemic.

How can stress impact your health?

“Stress can negatively affect your body, thoughts, feelings, and your behaviour,” warns counselling psychologist Elise Fourie. Stress symptoms can take many shapes and forms. It’s also important to note that there are different levels of stress: there are healthy levels and there are toxic levels. The consequences of unhealthy stress levels can lead to major health problems and illnesses, says clinical psychologist Charity Mkone. Being able to recognise common stress symptoms can help you manage them better. These include:

Health problems
“Uncontrolled stress can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, digestive problems, autoimmune diseases, reproductive problems and diabetes,” says Fourie.

Worried about things like your blood pressure? As a Sanlam Reality Core, Plus or Health member, you can manage your risk and earn tier points by booking a basic medical test at any Dis-Chem or Clicks pharmacy. A healthcare professional will assess your blood pressure, BMI, cholesterol and glucose levels.

Mental health problems
“Mental problems caused by stress include anxiety, panic attacks, depression, sleep problems, poor concentration, poor memory, poor judgement and low motivation,” explains Fourie.

Behavioural problems
“Stress can cause temper outbursts, impatience with colleagues, friends and family, avoidance of social activities, physical withdrawal from family members and friends, drug and alcohol abuse, poor work performance, procrastination, and tardiness,” Fourie continues.

Why is it so important to learn how to handle stress?

“Stress management decreases the negative impact of stress on your body, mind and behaviour,” says Fourie. “People who deal effectively with stress are more tranquil, satisfied, sometimes happier, healthier, and more productive. They have more resilience and are able to productively meet the challenges facing them. They focus more effectively and feel more motivated. They can also maintain better control when they are faced with tough and unexpected circumstances.”

What are some strategies to reduce stress?

A study conducted by Ipsos Global and Reuters showed that 57% of us don’t spend at least one week away per year on holiday; 53% said that they don’t take their allotted annual leave. It’s important to maintain a balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation and fun to keep stress at bay, says Fourie. Other strategies to maintain good stress management include:

On a physical level
“Eat healthily and avoid sugar and refined starches. Get enough sleep and exercise,” says Fourie. According to Harvard Medical School, 30 minutes of exercise two to three times a week is sufficient to counter the impact of stress. “At work, take the coffee breaks and lunch breaks, go outside if you can and enjoy a beverage and a snack or a meal. You think you’re working effectively even when you’ve skipped these breaks, but research indicates that you’re less productive and make more mistakes,” explains Fourie.

On an emotional level
“Spend time with family and friends; have fun, do something daring and different, or relax at home with a good book. Take time for yourself, sit outside and do nothing,” encourages Fourie. “Meditation is also a very useful tool to combat the negative effects of stress. Learn to meditate, or listen to a meditation. In the alternative, sit and just listen to your favourite music (preferably fairly calm and relaxing).”

Use your free Personal Assistant to help you source meditation classes or coaches and practitioners in your area to help you manage your stress levels better.

Identify your primary source of stress
“It’s important to identify where your high levels of unhealthy stress are coming from,” says Mkone. Rate your stressors from low to high. “By identifying and isolating the primary source of your stress, you are better equipped to deal with it. For example, if your health isn’t good, this could be the reason for your poor work performance. Both are stressors, but your health is your main source of unhealthy stress in this case.”

When does stress become a life-threatening concern?

“When a person’s life is in danger, the nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which prepares the body for emergency action. The heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and one’s senses become sharper,” says Fourie. “This flight-or-fight reaction is perfectly normal when your life is in danger, but damaging when it is not. Continued stress maintains this fight-or-flight reaction, as the nervous system and subconscious mind are unable to distinguish between life-threatening situations and non-life-threatening situations when confronted with continued and badly managed stress,” she adds. “If this non-functional stress fight-or-flight reaction continues, the damage to your physical and mental health can become severe.”

When to seek help

“It is necessary to see a medical doctor and/or a psychologist the moment you realise that you’re not able to deal with stress effectively,” says Fourie. “The sooner you get help, the better. If you start experiencing physical and mental symptoms that you suspect may be caused by stress, don’t postpone seeking help.”

Find out more about how a therapist and other experts can help you live your best life here.

“Prevention is better than cure,” adds Mkone. “You wouldn’t see a dentist only once all of your teeth have fallen out. Stress needs to be treated proactively. Far too often, people only seek help once they’ve reached the end of their tether; after trying to ‘be strong’ or to ‘snap out of it’. By the time they actually do seek help, it has progressed too far along and is either very difficult or takes much longer to treat.”

As a Sanlam Reality member (excluding Reality Access for Fedhealth) you have free access to Trauma, Assault and HIV Assist as one of your benefits. Get 24-hour counselling telephonically by calling 0860 732 548/9.

Reality Access for Sanlam Group Risk members get free access to telephonic advice and emergency medical assistance, 24/7, as one of their programme benefits. Click this to find out more.

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