March 2019 – Loosening the Grip of Stress

Stress is the most common cause of ill health in our society, probably underlying as many as 70% of all visits to family doctors.  The causes of stress are multiple and varied but they can be classified in two general groups: external and internal. External stressors can include relatives getting sick or dying, jobs being lost or people criticizing or becoming angry. However, most of the stress that most of us have is self-generated (internal). We create the majority of our upsets, indicating that because we cause most of our own stress, we can do something about it. This gives us a measure of choice and control that we do not always have when outside forces act on us.

This also leads to a basic premise about stress reduction: to master stress, you must change. You have to figure out what you are doing that is contributing to your problem and change it. These changes fall into four categories: change your behavior, change your thinking, change your lifestyle choices and/or change the situations you are in.

A list of practical and down-to-earth strategies

Decrease or Discontinue Caffeine – In terms of “bang for the buck,” it is hard to beat this simple intervention. Most patients do not realize that caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate and cola) is a drug, a strong stimulant that actually generates a stress reaction in the body.

Regular Exercise – As a way of draining off stress energy, nothing beats aerobic exercise. Exercise is the most logical way to dissipate this excess energy. It is what our bodies are trying to do when we pace around or tap our legs and fingers.

Relaxation/Meditation – Another way to reduce stress in the body is through certain disciplines which fall under the heading of relaxation techniques.

Sleep – Chronically stressed patients almost all suffer from fatigue (in some cases resulting from stress-induced insomnia), and people who are tired do not cope well with stressful situations.

Time-outs and Leisure – No one would expect a hockey player to play an entire game without taking breaks. Surprisingly though, many otherwise rational people think nothing of working from dawn to dusk without taking intermissions, and then wonder why they become distressed.

Realistic Expectations – A common source of stress is unrealistic expectations. People often become upset about something, not because it is innately stressful, but because it does not align with what they expected.

Reframing – Reframing is a technique used to change the way you look at things in order to feel better about them.  The key to reframing is to recognize that there are many ways to interpret the same situation. It is like the age-old question: Is the glass half empty or half full?

Belief Systems – A lot of stress results from our beliefs.

Beliefs cause stress in two ways. The first is the behavior that results from them. For example, if you believe that work should come before pleasure, you are likely to work harder and have less leisure time than you would otherwise.  The second way beliefs cause stress is when they are in conflict with those of other people.

Ventilation/Support System – There is an old saying that “a problem shared is a problem halved.” People who keep things to themselves carry a considerable and unnecessary burden.

Humor – Humor is a wonderful stress reducer, an antidote to upsets. Laughter relieves tension. In fact, we often laugh hardest when we have been feeling most tense.

From the work of Canadian Doctor David B. Posen

Reader’s Corner

  • “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers”
  • “Full Catastrophe Living”
  • “The Little Book of Stress Relief”
  • “Under Pressure: Stress & Anxiety in Girls”