Stress is a hugely important topic that impacts us all and overlaps with, is caused by and is a part of many things, many causes and issues. On this page I will explore aspects of the subject, understanding that to do so with real eloquence would take much more space. I want this page to be comprehensive and to offer support to those who need it, but I also am very interested in exploring the fuller reality of such a subject.
The topics I touch upon are health and stress, medical support, mental-health charities, depression, addiction, existential pain, the ways we can cope with stress – taking one step at a time, exercise and leisure, being social, mindfulness and meditation, nature, massage and alternative therapies, and keeping a health diary.
Please share your experiences, methods of coping and any information you have. Stress in its many forms affects us all and it is so easy to be isolated. Please feel free to share your comments, or to contact me XX
HEALTH AND STRESS
Life is stressful, in a multitude of ways, at some times more than others, and for some people more intensely than others. We all cope with a lot, and too much stress greatly contributes to poor health, releasing toxic hormones, chemicals and sugar into the bloodstream, which are acidic and inflammatory, and in the long-term put a lot of pressure on the body, in turn making life more stressful. It is so important that stress is tackled and reduced as much as possible, and that people are supported, and able to support themselves, to lead less stressful and more fulfilled lives.
Many health symptoms and problems are caused and inflamed by stress. Health is complex; for example, one pertinent to this blog, you may eliminate every possible contaminant from your diet and still have symptoms such as bloating, headaches, tummy upset and chronic tiredness. Stress is recognised as being a triggering factor in irritable bowel syndrome and fybromyalgia, and it inflames and worsens many if not all conditions, for one because it makes it harder to be positive and to cope, and has a direct weakening effect on the immune system.
The mind and emotions are powerful, and their state of well-being has a huge impact on our health.
The food that we eat also has a great impact on how we feel and on our health, which in turn affects how we feel. All are inter-related.
Eat fruit, vegetables and natural whole foods, and give yourself the best chance at sustainable health and wellness.
Having health problems is stressful, as is trying to get to grips with understanding them and coping the best you can. As someone coping with health conditions you are vulnerable to stress, anxiety and depression. Be logical in your approach, be kind to yourself and put yourself first as you strive towards optimal health. You’re going to feel down sometimes, but this can be managed and minimised. You can’t do everything, and people aren’t perfect; that’s okay, that’s life.
SEE YOUR DOCTOR
Firstly, if you are over-stressed, feel anxious, tight-chested, have heart palpitations and/or feel very down a lot, see your doctor and get their support. Always reach out to your doctor and allow them help you. If they are not as supportive as you’d like, see another doctor until you get the help and support you need. But understand that you are too responsible for your own well-being, and except in exceptional circumstances, able to help yourself also. You are capable, so often we tell ourselves the opposite of this.
Doctors can refer you to therapeutic stress-busting activities such as mindfulness (see below section), counselling and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). They can also provide antidepressants and other medication. You may or may not want to take any antidepressants if offered them. I never have, but this is my personal circumstance and choice. I would say, from my amateur perspective, that antidepressants are very good for those who are in extreme difficulty emotionally and mentally, as they give you some space from the pain you are suffering, and allow you to rebuild your life. Also many other conditions require the support of long-term medication; we are chemical beings and can require medication to re-balance, there is no shame in this and no problem; you can have a healthy diet and lifestyle and take medication, they are not necessarily in opposition at all (although they can be, and it’s also a reality that drugs are over-prescribed and many people are taking them unnecessarily). Build a good relationship with a good doctor, and if you don’t feel supported keep searching for a doctor that you feel is right for you and offers adequate support.
But remember that food is also a powerful tonic and medicine and has the power to re-balance, energise and heal.
Pursue health and happiness through your diet, get to grips with what your body needs and does not need and give it the best chance at health, understanding that physical and mental health are inter-related.
There are also mental health organisations and charities out there that you can turn to at times of need, see the resources at the bottom of the page for a few suggestions, and by contacting these organisations you can be signposted to somewhere that is relevant to you. People tend to keep things bottled up and this is unhealthy, it is important to be open about your problems, with the right people. Though it is isolating when you share your problems and people don’t react how you’d like them to, remember that in times of stress your own reactions are heightened, your ability to brush off the things that hurt is weakened and things are blown out of proportion.
Charities can also can always do with volunteers, and getting involved is a great way to reduce stress if you have enough time on your hands, especially if you feel isolated and have few opportunities to get involved and to be a part of something worthwhile, where you will be valued and you efforts will make a difference to other people’s lives.
Depression, stress and anxiety, though interconnected, are not the same things. Many people suffer from stress, and anxiety, fewer have depression. Stress and anxiety, not dealt with, can lead to depression. But these things are complex, and personal also. Feelings of depression are most likely experienced by every person at some point, but being depressed is another thing. States of depression are not permanent, but feel that way. Depression is very physical in its manifestation.
Know that this is in many ways chemical, and that it is not permanent.
You may always have to ward off those feelings, I do, probably most people do at various times in their lives, life can be very tough, but you can do it, one step at a time. Reach out and get support as soon as you can. Look after yourself, and remember that you are important. And also remember that you are not your mind, it can be a very cruel instrument, and very difficult to live with, but it is like a machine, it can develop problems and need work straightening them out. This is normal. Don’t be afraid to reach out for support. A problem may seem insurmountable to you, this is because you are stressed, in reality, the world is just crammed with mistakes and problems, and also people that understand and care, and who can help, personally or professionally.
I don’t drink alcohol, take drugs, smoke, or drink tea or coffee; I used to over do things in the past, which often happens when people are coping with a lot, and under a lot of stress. Cutting out such things has greatly reduced my stress levels; I fully recommend doing it. It may take time, but you can do it. So often people use such props and escapes in order to avoid pressures and problems, and in doing so only add to them, especially long-term. You don’t need any crutches, you’re strong enough to stand on your own two feet, and you owe it to yourself to do so.
Be as honest with yourself as possible, and seek professional help if you need it; reach out to friends and family, but also don’t necessarily expect them to provide the support you feel you need or to react how you would like them to, often we have unrealistic expectations of others. Remember that addiction and over-use problems are incredibly common in this day and age; you may feel stigma, but don’t, people may not admit it, but they’re not perfect either. There’s no shame in admitting you have a problem, and in reality, the past is the past, we cannot change it; that’s life. Food addiction is a big problem, many people have an unhealthy and obsessive relationship to food. If you have a problem, with addiction or any other problem also, deal with it now, do not be afraid to seek help, and do so before your health suffers any more, the future you is well worth it, as is the present you. Keep trying and you will get there. It’s about slowly turning around and understanding ourselves. It may well take time and many tries, but that’s totally normal. You can find balance in your life, but remember that no-one’s life is perfect, we’re all human.
WAYS OF COPING WITH STRESS
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?
Existentially life is very difficult to negotiate, and we can become very introverted and feel isolated from others. We are isolated in our consciousness, and yet we are all in this same boat also. I think it’s important to learn, to read and explore what it all means, to try to keep that interest alive. Remember that we are all in this together, everyone is born, everyone lives with the mind and the body and their strengths and weaknesses, and everyone ages, and is facing illness and death, in old age or before, as are all their loved ones; this is life. We live in a beautiful world, that is also very ugly and very painful to face. People can be good, or bad, they can be, and are, both. It is a confusing world of juxtaposition. To live right and be balanced we must seek empathy and understanding. We have to come to terms with these things and attempt to understand the human condition. It is in large part our perspective on life that determines how we feel. At times these realities are over-whelming, but with a strengthened mind and perspective, it does not have to be this way.
Modern life is full of pressures that are easy to fall prey to, and that can leave us feeling inadequate and unhappy, and prey on our negativity. Remember what is important: to be kind to yourself and others, to do your best, to move on from the past and embrace your present, and not to be too judgmental. Don’t be a walk over, but be able to turn the other cheek; don’t let other people determine how you feel, our goal must be self-mastery.
Let’s be thankful for what we have, and work for a better life, so often our unhappiness is because we feel hard done by, but look around you, everyone is suffering, let’s support each other and accept that life is not easy, but that it is through facing difficulty that we grow strong and get the most joy, as we then appreciate what we have.
ONE STEP AT A TIME
If you are too depressed, stressed or unhappy to do much at all, start by doing small things to look after yourself, do the washing up, run a bath, read a book, keep your clothes clean, take a walk. Fresh air and exercise are so good at combating stress. The sooner you can engage with these things the stronger you will feel. We are creatures of habit, allow your mind to latch onto something better than the stress you feel, something positive, and keep telling yourself that how you feel is an illness, it is not you, it can be healed.
If your life is highly stressful, and you are coping as best you can and holding things together but are very stressed, you must find ways to reduce that state of stress for your own health and well-being. Consider your long-term plan, why you are doing what you are doing and how long this period of stress is likely to last. Rationalise the situation you are in. Change is scary but not impossible. Remember how capable you are, and others, and try not to alienate yourself from those around you. Communication and empathy are key. Anxiety causes you to over-react and find things harder to cope with and more threatening.
EXERCISE and LEISURE
Exercise is a very important tool and necessary for optimal health, physical, emotional and mental. We are not made to be inactive, and leading an inactive life is unhealthy. Do what you can, go for walks in the country, or in a local park or garden, run, practice yoga or tai chi, stretch, do your physio, take a trip to the sea if you can. I find swimming an excellent form of exercise as it is suitable for people living with many health conditions. It supports the joints and allows you to increase your fitness without putting too much pressure on the body. Water is also therapeutic and relaxing in itself.
It is so important to have leisure time where you do a hobby and enjoy and stimulate yourself. Take photo’s, read, paint, practice mindfulness or meditation, join a local society or club, or any other activity that is going to allow you to relax and unwind and to be you.
Music is a wonderful thing, it is a language more powerful than any other, able to lift and empathise, to symbolise and describe life in it’s entirety. It is spiritual, political, emotional, social, poetic. It can be soothing, rousing, and cover all the emotions. For many music is an important part of life. Make sure that when you are stressed you listen to music that will aid your relaxation. Look after yourself, music is a wonderfully stimulating way to engage with the world and life, whether through playing an instrument of enjoying other’s playing.
Humour is so important, life is tragic and it is hilarious, ourselves and other people are to be taken seriously and are seriously funny too, we must allow ourselves to see the funny side of this crazy world, it is one of our most important tools. Life is tough, yes it most definitely is, but why take everything so seriously? It is a serious question!
Remember that humans are social creatures and that we need the support of others to be happy. I recommend being as self-sufficient as possible, but we must recognise that we need the company of others, at least some of the time. Reach out, join in, don’t let yourself hold you back. Stress and anxiety make social situations difficult, remember that this is not abnormal, many other people feel the same, and that you have a right to be accepted and that we must all live in a non-judgmental way; those who do not are in fact living in error, strive not to make the same mistake yourself. People rarely conform to what we want them to be, and we are pre-programmed culturally to be full of assumptions and boundaries that, especially in times of stress, can really be difficult to control and become accentuated.
So often problems are made worse by not sharing them. They build up and are blown out of proportion in our minds, and we are trapped by our perspectives, which are often in warped by our emotions and incorrect ways of thinking. We must all muck along with each other, accept each others faults and look for each others strengths. Don’t isolate yourself unnecessarily, try to let go of strong negative emotions as they will only make you ill and unhappy, and reach out to the world and give it what you can. You are a valid part of it.
MINDFULNESS AND MEDITATION
Recommended by health professionals (see if you can get a referral from your doctor for a group session), the practice of mindfulness is extremely helpful for reducing stress and anxiety, and achieving wellness. It is good because it is guided, and encourages you to step back from your thoughts, as an entity separate from mind and your Self, and connect with your body and the world around you.
You are not your thoughts, and in times of stress the mind can go haywire and be very difficult to live with. This does not have to be a permanent state, reach out to your doctor, or to a local charity or mindfulness group, and take steps to help yourself.
You are not alone or unusual, many, if not all, people suffer difficulties with stress at different times in their lives, there is no shame in it what so ever, though so often people feel otherwise and isolate themselves. Group mindfulness sessions are a great way of experiencing this, a safe space to share if you want to, and to enable other people to share and go on a positive journey together.
Try not to be overly critical of yourself, so often our internal narrative is a negative one. Practices such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) are excellent at helping individuals recognise the ways in which their thinking is wrong and negatively impacting on their happiness and ability to cope. Get a referral from your doctor if you are suffering from high anxiety and/or depression and engage with the process as much as you can.
Any kind of meditation and quiet peaceful time is good for reducing stress levels, and allowing you to live a happier life
Spiritual health is connected to physical health, when we are spiritually unhappy, our health suffers; it is stressful to be disconnected from what we value and who we really are, and life so often gets in the way. In order to pursue spiritual health, which is a part of the pursuit of wellness, you need to be able to find a quiet place in yourself to think objectively, or to not think at all, but to relax. This is important also in listening to our bodies needs and satisfying them. It takes time, especially when the mind is racing, but it is a journey towards optimal wellness, not an overnight solution. It can give you the space to recognise the nature of the mind, and the thoughts that are making your life difficult, and so a starting place for tackling them and moving forwards.
When you are unwell, mental clarity is not a given, for example, a symptom of most autoimmune conditions, is ‘foggy brain’. Stress causes this also. I fight for mental clarity constantly, as well as coping with pain and loss of bodily function and ability, which is in itself continually stressful. I have had anxiety disorder, and still suffer from and fight anxiety and stress everyday. It is a battle, and you can keep on top of it. Life is a battle, I have accepted that now and feel much better for it. I try my best, which is not always good enough, but everyday is a new day, and I am only human.
Being with nature, whether it’s going outside, watching birds and wildlife, watching a river flow by, sitting under a tree, feeling the sun on your skin, going for a walk or run, gardening, inside or outside, caring for a pet; observing nature in any way in very good for your health and wellness. So often in modern life we are separated from nature, and the real world around us, by our homes, our cars, our offices and work-places, by our television sets and the busy demands of our lives. This separation in itself is stressful and causes anxiety. It has been proven over and over that contact with nature and taking that time to slow down and relax is hugely beneficial for physical, emotional and mental health. We must treat ourselves well and give ourselves what we need in order to function properly, or problems will develop and be difficult to resolve.
Nature is everywhere, and what’s more it’s free. Enjoy it, take the time to sit and watch and allow yourself to engage. It may take time, that’s okay. Give things a chance, you never know what it is you may really enjoy and benefit from!
MASSAGE AND ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES
Massage is a fantastic way to relax and unwind, to recover from injury, and to reduce stress and anxiety. There are so many wonderful alternative therapies that are so beneficial to you physically mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I say go for it! Being touched and nurtured, having someone kind who wants to listen and can give advice is so valuable, as well as the enourmous physical and health benefits of massage, acupuncture, aromatherapy, reflexology etc. They are life-changing therapies and everyone should embrace them as much as they can, ESPECIALLY those who are stressed or suffer from ill-health, so basically everyone then!
USING A HEALTH DIARY
I find that using a health diary is incredibly useful, as a record for objective analysis and as a motivational tool. Since keeping a diary, I achieve more, feel better about myself and what I have done and am able to do, and have more hope for the future.
I have found that it is so important to build a strong working relationship with yourself in order to cope well with this life and the things it throws at us. Don’t be too judgmental, try to let go of the past and live for the present. We are all human, we make mistakes, we have weaknesses and strengths, that’s life!
Do what you can to reduce your stress, look after yourself and be kind to yourself and those around you. Don’t be overly critical, and if you are, remember that it is normal to go through times of anxiety. You are not alone.
You are strong, you can cope with far more than you ever thought possible.
GO FOR IT!