By Charlotte Armitage, The Media Psychologist® and MD YAFTA
For modern women, the demands and expectations that are placed upon us, can at times feel overwhelming and relentless. We’re expected to juggle careers alongside being the perfect mother and partner as well as having an active social life too. However, as much as we may continue to power on without necessarily taking much notice of the impact that this fast paced, jam packed lifestyle has on our physical and psychological health, there is no question that leading such demanding lives will have an impact on our stress levels.
Some types of stress are important. Stress is a survival function which has many benefits such as helping us to flee from dangerous situations, but too much stress is unhealthy. When we are stressed, the body releases cortisol into the blood stream. All cells in the body have cortisol receptors and cortisol is used to regulate a number of bodily functions such as metabolism, memory, blood pressure, salt and water regulation, to name but a few. Too much cortisol in the system can cause undesirable repercussions including high blood pressure, weight gain, mood swings, reduced libido and skin changes.
Stress is something that most of us will suffer with at some point during our lives. It can have a huge impact on physical, psychological, emotional and behavioural functioning. The impact of stress can also lead to serious health conditions and can actually be the catalyst for other health problems especially if you are the type of person who suffers with physical presentations of stress. For example, many people experience stomach problems when they are stressed, with conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome highly linked to stress. Some people suffer with painful joints, muscle pains and headaches as a result of stress. The list of how stress presents within the body is endless.
Many people only attempt to manage their stress levels once they have already experienced the negative impact of elevated stress levels. But in order to truly look after our psychological wellbeing and consequently, our physical health, introducing protective mechanisms into our lives, so that we can lead a healthy balanced lifestyle, will aid in reducing stress levels and as a consequence, improve health.
Here are some tips to help manage stress:
Practice Self-Care: Self-care is something that we should all practice regularly and not just when we feel overwhelmed with life. True self-care is about making difficult decisions regarding your life and your commitments to ensure that you are setting appropriate boundaries to protect your psychological and physical health. Examples of what this could entail are; not attempting to do too much, trying to put yourself first, trying not to please everyone else to the detriment of your own. Boundaries are fundamental to healthy psychological functioning and are a protective factor against mental illness, so consider setting boundaries which feel safe and appropriate for you. This will help to prevent becoming overwhelmed with the multitude of demands that are placed upon you.
Practice Reflection: Reflecting on your life and considering the ‘how’s’ and ‘why’s’ of your day to day life facilitates psychological processing. Learning to process life events, especially the difficult events will help to reduce stress levels. Facing difficult situations head on rather than hiding behind maladaptive coping mechanisms takes a lot of mental strength but it is much healthier than avoidance tactics in the long run.
Practice Relaxation: Related to the point above about self-care, ensuring that you take some time to do an activity that helps you to relax, away from technology, is important in managing your stress levels. It is another tool that can help us to maintain a healthy perspective on our lives and career. Without a doubt, it can be very hard to relax when you have a to-do list as long as your arm, but forcing yourself to relax will do you the world of good in the end.
Practice Gratitude. Being able to appreciate the positive parts of our lives when we are in a challenging situation is vital in helping us to get through the difficult times. Consider writing a couple of sentences about two things that have made you happy during each day or writing five things that you are grateful for. This reinforces the positive aspects of your life and can help you to gain perspective on life events.
It’s so easy to forget to put ourselves first until it gets to the point where stress has had such a negative impact on our physical and psychological health that we have no choice. Try making some small changes to improve your quality of life, because ultimately, the health and happiness of ourselves and our families is more important than anything else in the world.