Stress. One of those buzzwords that seem to be on the tips of the tongues of most people. But what exactly is stress? I headed off at full speed to my handy-dandy dictionary. Incidentally, the dictionary is one of the few books I tolerate in an online form. I just prefer that paper sensation that seems to have an endorphin effect on me. Maybe the world would be a better place if more persons got high on those sensations rather than those associated with illegal drugs, alcohol, bullying power and revenge. However, I digress.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, stress is a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation. That is so important to know. Stress can play a role in causing diseases. The American Psychological Association, in their definition of stress, re-emphasizes the fact that stress has an effect on several aspects of body function.
Whilst this is true, I am the bearer of good news. Not all stress is bad. As a matter-of-fact, stress can be a good thing. Stress provides that boost that is needed to perform challenging tasks such as exams, to meet deadlines and, should the need arise, assist with escaping a hungry lion. So from where does the problem with stress arise?
The answer is in the amount of stress, the length of time under which a person finds himself or herself under stress and the management, or more accurately, the mismanagement of stress. Decades ago, several scientists realized that stress had a negative impact on the immune, cardiovascular, neuroendocrine and central nervous systems; and these mentioned systems impact the other systems in the body.
Chronic stress can lead to anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, headaches and a weakened immune system. It also contributes to major illnesses such as heart disease, depression and obesity. After such a long and involved discourse, it is clear to see that high levels of stress, for prolonged periods of time are not good for the health of an individual.
It behoves us as right-thinking humans to put measures in place, therefore, to manage the stress under which we find ourselves. Certainly, we have the power to control to a large extent those things which we can control. One of the things that we need to keep in mind is that we are not indispensable- that is my word for the year. Another person can do my job; another woman can take care of my children and husband; someone else can play the keyboard. Whilst these unknown persons may not do my life tasks in the way I would, were I to die, those tasks would still need to be performed and the world will still be spinning, whilst the worms are feasting on my mortal remains. It sounds morbid, but it is true. What I can die and leave, I can live and see.
With that in mind, let us find ways to reduce stress in our lives.
S– Simplify. Simplify your schedule. Too often we commit to more than we are able to adequately perform. Perhaps it is the fear of disappointing others or the need to be busy that we overbook ourselves. The word ‘no’ is one of the smallest in the English language but it seems to be one of the most difficult words to utter. Consult your schedule before you commit yourself.
T– Treat. Treat yourself to something pleasurable on a regular basis. Too often we wait for special occasions to wear a certain outfit or perfume. Time is not promised to anyone and so there must be some degree of enjoyment of the pleasures of life, whilst we are still living. And not all treats involve the exchange of money. A walk on the beach, liming with friends and family, a drive along the East Coast or the North Coast of the island for a picnic with that special someone – these are just a few suggestions.
R– Rest. Most adults do not believe that they require more than eight hours of sleep. In today’s fast-paced world, we must deal with increasingly demanding bosses who seem to set targets that are inversely proportional to available resources. Adequate rest gives the body and mind a chance to rejuvenate and so improve mental clarity, immune function and enhance physical performance.
E– Exercise. I date myself by referring to the giant caterpillar on Sesame Street who sang about the importance of exercise. The positive benefits of exercise should be discussed in an article on its own. It is sufficient to say that adequate exercise, safely done on a regular basis, is one of the best things a person can do for his or her present life and future existence.
S–Selflessness. Perhaps we have become too self-involved as a people and this is why we become so pressured. There are so many community projects in which we can become involved, even as children. This allows us to use our energies to add value to those persons who are less fortunate than we are. This fosters community spirit, enhanced community relationships and as such, there is less time for gun violence and other crimes.
S– Seek. Stress is an individual entity. What one individual deems as stressful could be a breeze for another. Diplomatically speaking, I had strong feelings of dislike for being on-call as an intern, whilst some of my colleagues looked forward to those long arduous nights. Therefore, if you find yourself in a situation that you consider to be stressful for yourself, and subsequently realiz e that you are not able to manage tasks as before, seek professional help. Unfortunately, in our society, going to a counsellor, psychiatrist or psychologist is not the done thing for cultural reasons. Take my foolish advice-it is better to get help than to become ill.
Someone I know always says that she is refusing to stress herself because she is too pretty for the worms to eat her. That is food for thought!
(Renee Boyce is a medical doctor, a wife, a mother and a Christian, who is committed to Barbados’ development. Email:reneestboyce@gmail)