Stress is a common feeling we all experience at times. Some stress is good for us and helps us to perform our best. But when we are under too much stress for too long, our performance decreases and our overall health and wellbeing is affected.
Knowing how to manage stress, set limits, problem-solve, engage in self-care and take time out is necessary for everybody.
Top tips for dealing with stress:
- Learn how to recognise stress and ways to cope with it.
- Engage in techniques to help you relax.
- Learn skills you can use every day such as effective problem solving, healthy communication and healthy thinking.
- Develop a healthy work-life balance by staying physically active, eating a balanced diet, establishing good sleeping patterns, and making time for pleasurable activities and people who are important to you.
- Spend time with people who can support you when you’re feeling stressed.
Read more about beating stress.
What is stress?
Stress is our body’s natural reaction to any kind of excess demand or threat. What causes stress for you may not be stressful for someone else.
Stress can come from many sources such as health issues, relationship problems, workplace, paying the bills, deadlines, exams, or even unrealistic expectations we put on ourselves.
Sometimes stress is helpful as it can motivate you to meet a deadline or get things done. But long-term stress can increase the risk of conditions like:
A stress-related illness called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after an event like war, physical or sexual assault, or a natural disaster.
Symptoms of long-term stress
As mentioned, in small doses, stress can be useful – we work faster, are more motivated and focused or can achieve a challenging physical goal. On the other hand, long-term stress can be harmful.
Common symptoms caused by long-term stress include:
- headaches, muscle tension, neck or back pain
- dry mouth
- feeling anxious, or jittery
- being more irritable or angry than normal
- overeating or loss of appetite and not eating well
- upset stomach
- chest pains, rapid heartbeat
- not sleeping
- feeling tired, flat, down or 'worn out'
- finding it hard to concentrate or focus
- needing coffee, energy drinks or sugar buzz to keep going
- increased skin infections, mouth ulcers, colds, rashes or asthma.
According to the Mayo Clinic in the US, when you learn to manage your stress, you will find peace of mind and have a longer, healthier life. The most recent thinking on stress management has found that you should tackle it before the symptoms appear, which means learning to recognise what sparks stress in your daily life.
In order to beat stress effectively you need to have a grab-bag of anti-stressing tools that you use often and proactively before your body's stress response fully kicks in. The more anti-stressing tools you can learn the better. Here are some to help you get started:
- do something you find relaxing
- breath deeply, from your diaprahgm
- eat well
- listen to music
- practice mindfulness meditation
- exercise regularly
- take frequent breaks
- talk with someone
- get as much sleep as you can.
Read more about these and other anti-stressing techniques.
Self care when you're feeling stressed
Stress is a normal part of life and can be either positive or negative. If stress has got to the point where you feel overwhelmed and are finding it hard to relax, then you need to do something about it.
You may find it helps to:
- Talk with someone who will listen and provide good support and advice if you want it.
- Review all the sources of stress in your life – what can be reduced, stopped or changed to take some pressure off.
- Problem-solve and action plan to help break things down into doable steps.
- Look at your lifestyle and make sure you are eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep and exercise.
Who can I talk to if I'm feeling stressed?
If you have tried the tips above and are still feeling stressed, the best person to go to for help initially is your doctor. They may:
- offer stress reduction techniques or direct you to courses that teach stress reduction
- draw up a stress management plan and monitor your stress over time
- refer you for psychotherapy or counselling or talk to you about medication if it is appropriate for you.
What is anxiety? beyondblue, 2015
What is depression? beyondblue, 2015
Problem Solving Worksheet BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information, 2009
Online Life Skills Resource Living Life to the Full
How dogs can help with mental health – mind boosting benefits of dog ownership UK, 2018
- National Library of Medicine USA
When you learn to manage your stress, you will find peace of mind and have a longer, healthier life – that’s according to the famed Mayo Clinic (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) in the US.
Wind down – before you get wound up
The most up-to-date thinking on stress management has found that you should tackle it before the symptoms appear, which means learning to recognise what sparks stress in your daily life.
In order to cope with stress effectively, you need to have a grab-bag of anti-stressing tools that you use often and proactively before your body's stress response fully kicks in. The more anti-stressing tools you can learn the better – get started today!
Top tips for managing stress
||Take part in activities that calm you – such as gardening or going for a walk. It’s worth exploring various techniques to find what works best for you – then do it regularly!
||You can relax and take in more oxygen if you breathe using your diaphragm. To practice ‘diaphragmatic breathing’:
If you would like to find out more about healthy breathing, there are breathing therapists listed in the Yellow Pages who can help you, or ask your GP.
- Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
- Breathe in deeply through your nose, making sure the hand on your stomach rises and the hand on your chest doesn't.
- Breathe out very slowly, then clench your abdomen muscles.
- Repeat these steps four times.
A good diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables and low in fatty, sugary and processed foods provides your body with the nutrients it requires to maintain good health. Food rich in carbohydrates like rice, potatoes and pasta can help the brain to maintain high levels of serotonin, a chemical that has stress-reducing properties.
||Close your eyes and visualise a scene of relaxation, letting your imagination wander there for a few minutes or even just for a few seconds as your body and brain unwind.
|Practice mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation is a technique to bring your focus into the moment and thereby escape some of the constant chatter of your brain. It’s been shown to reduce stress and improve health among a range of people. Mindfulness meditation needs to be taught and there are courses in most New Zealand cities.
|Massage and other complementary therapies
||Massage, hypnotherapy, yoga, exercise and aromatherapy have all been shown to have some effect in alleviating mental distress. For more information see the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand’s booklet Complementary Therapies in Mental Health.
|Listen to music
||Listening to music you enjoy has been scientifically shown to reduce a host of mental distress syndromes.
|Shrug it off
||Raise your shoulders, and then drop them. The Mental Health Foundation suggests this relaxes your whole body.
|Take a break
||Give yourself a breather every now and then; take a short break during the day at work or home. Do something you really enjoy. Make sure you plan for a longer break or two over the year to relax more fully.
||Try walking, swimming, yoga or anything you enjoy doing three times a week minimum.
Lack of good sleep can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness, tiredness and lethargy, morning headache, poor memory, anxiety and depression. People who regularly don't sleep well are also more likely to have accidents, abuse substances such as alcohol, and suffer greater illness and disease.
|Talk to someone
||Often a natter with a friend, your partner, parents, counsellor or clergy or someone else you trust can really help. You can also ask yourself if what you are stressing over really is a problem.
|Limit your expectations
||Be selective in the tasks you take on and in your goal setting – don’t bite off more than you can chew.
|Get organised for and at work
- Get up 5 or 10 minutes earlier so you don’t have to rush.
- Organise your desk, put flowers in your office, make sure the lighting is right for you.
- Break large projects down into small steps
- Spend 10 minutes at the end of the day preparing for the next.
|Learn to problem solve
||Stay assertive and learn to say ‘no’. But also practice compromise and learn how to deal with your frustrations and anger.
|Practice positive self-talk
||Identify what you do well, and recognise and acknowledge your qualities and characteristics.
|Put fun and laughter into your life – SMILE!
||This has been proven to be good for your health and it feels good too!
|Get a pet
||People with pets tend to feel calmer and less alone.
|Write it down
||Keep a notepad by the bed, write down what is stressing you and tell yourself you will deal with it in the morning. Do this during the day, too, and allocate 30 minutes later to deal with the list – that clears the rest of the day for 'stress-freeness’!
|Take to cigarettes, caffeine, alcohol or snack foods
||These only make things worse in the long term, even if they appear to offer some kind of temporary relief.
||Instead, take one step at a time.
|Blame yourself if you don't reach all your goals
||Remember, these may be possible next time.
CALM – Computer Assisted Learning for the Mind The University of Auckland (a website with a range of tools, relaxing music and audio tapes to help you develop 4 areas of your life which will help you manage stress and develop greater happiness):
- mental resilience
- managing stress, anxiety and depression
- healthy relationships
- finding meaning in life.