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Articles on Stress


How to deal with stress and feel more in control

Stress taking over your life? Reclaim control today By Kim Bell

You pride yourself on being superwoman; after all you are the ultimate multi-tasker.

Yes, life is demanding, but you thrive on the stress. You are in control. You are operating on top form. You have a handle on it. It's the buzz, the rush of energy, the high you get as adrenalin surges through you body, as you push yourself mentally beyond physical boundaries and constraints.

But, like any high, this euphoric feeling is transitory. Desperate to retain the buzz, you push yourself further. You take on more responsibility, more work, and more commitments. Your drive is fueled by your need to get the bigger rush, that greater burst of adrenaline, to achieve the ultimate state.

And then it happens the last straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back. Your carefully constructed life is unraveling and there is nothing you can do about it. You are exhausted, dissatisfied and depressed. You have a problem, an addiction and you need help.

Stress addiction is a very real affliction that is becoming increasingly common in our overloaded lives, explains Debbie Mandel, psychologist and author of Addicted to Stress: A woman's 7 step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life (Wiley). Like any addiction, you first need to identify and accept you have a problem, that you need help and you must be willing to take the steps to break your habit.

Addiction is described as an obsession or a compulsion. It is destructive and can be life-threatening, and stress addiction is no different than having a dependency on drugs, alcohol or sex. "Stress causes hormonal, chemical and physical changes in the body contributing to ill health as well as emotional, behavioural and mental problems," explains Shelton Kartun, Director of the Anger and Stress Management Centre of South Africa. "Some of the physical tell-tale signs include high blood pressure, racing heart, sweaty palms, poor sleep patterns or insomnia, skin problems, digestive problems, lowered immune system, susceptibility to colds and infections, forgetfulness and panic attacks. Emotionally, you become snappy, easily irritated and angry." He adds that stress addiction can affect your behaviour; you may pick up nervous tendencies such as biting your nails or playing with your hair. You may bounce between extremes, becoming argumentative or withdrawing. You also run the risk of engaging in other addictive tendencies, such as alcohol, smoking or overeating.
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But how do you know whether you are a little overburdened, or whether you have an addiction? It's quite simple, explains Mandel. "You are constantly busy, blown about in different directions. You do things with a loose mind. You feel exhausted and dissatisfied that you did not complete your endless to-do list. You experience various aches and pains. You get into a worry loop, feel depressed and ironically, despite all that you are trying to achieve, you feel that you are under-accomplishing. You have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Most importantly, you feel guilty about taking time out for yourself. If you had the quiet time, you would not know what to do with it, or yourself."

Kartun adds that when you are stressed, your body produces adrenalin, which can give rise to feelings of power. "People can get addicted to the adrenalin rush or simply the pressure which can drive you to achieve beyond that which you normally would." He warns that if you don't take action against your addiction, you will, over time, put your health at risk and could even develop coronary health disease. "Some stress addicts have an illusion that being stressed is a good thing," he adds.

The root of stress addiction lies within your personality. "You basic fear is that you feel you are not good enough," shares Mandel. "Addiction gives you a false sense of control. Deep down you as the addict has lost personal power. You want to feel numb through distraction, to avoid dealing with the root source of unhappiness and your loss of control," she adds.

Like any addiction you need to take steps to break the habit, the experts reveal. "Identify your stressors and acknowledge the negative effects these may be having on you. Take each one and create a stress-proofing plan where you decide what changes you are going to make so that you minimize negative stress in your life. This must be within a certain time frame, and measurable so that you have a target to work towards. Seek help if necessary, from a professional as well as from friends or family," Kartun shares.

Mandel adds: "Helicopter over yourself instead of everyone else." Ideally, she advises, you need to alleviate your anxiety and become a "healthy narcissist" by reframing your negatives into positives. "You need to take back your power and turn stress into strength."

She adds: "Stress addicts are escaping the deficiencies of their personality. Make up your mind to be happy. You need to come from a point of strength, not weakness. Shed something today from your to-do list. And with this time, do something for yourself with this free time." Change your perception from what you still need to do, to what you have already accomplished.

Rediscovering who you are, and liking the person you have become are all important steps. And this turnaround can begin as soon as you want it to, Mandel shares. "You can begin to break the addiction in a few minutes, if you want to change your habits – where there is a will there is a way."

There are strategies that you can use to take back control. By recognising your addiction you break the pattern. Try to be kind to those in your life, including strangers. "Observe how you interact with these people. Now internalise this and learn to be as kind to yourself as you would be to others."

Mandel recommends you keep a kindness journal. In one column write your kindness acts for others, and in the other write your kindness acts for yourself. "The trick is to try and keep them balanced."

Mandel explains that as you battle to take time to relax; walking meditations will be beneficial to you. "Put one foot in front of the other, and see that you are moving forward by absorbing the beauty of the scenery."

Another step is to take a long hot shower. The heat not only helps relax your muscles but cleans out your pores and releases the physical tension you may be holding. "This prepares you for the next step, which is to simply sit and read a book, or listen to music. Stay hydrated by drinking a glass of cool water with a few sliced strawberries or a slice of lemon."

As a stress addict, you need to awaken your senses rather than numbing them. You may find that you are a creature of habit, and so you need to break this by experimenting with new fragrances, foods, CDs or books. As you need to reconnect with who you really are, Mandel recommends you start a "soul collage". Take out your camera and capture where your eyes are drawn, see if there is a pattern. Cut out illustrations, cartoons, your photos, fabric samples, dried flowers etc, anything that takes your interest. "Don't think about it; just choose the first things that come to mind, when it is finished, take a long hard look – what do you learn about yourself?"

Lastly, Mandel believes a strength-training programme will prove beneficial as this will help you find empowerment and clarity, which will transfer into your daily life.

The experts say that you will know when you have broken your addiction as you will be happier in yourself and have more energy. The good news, Mandel says, is that stress management means setting up and preparing for the next obstacle and then cultivating a relaxation response. "Keep reframing your story with positive perception. What kind of a story would you like to live? Stress will always land on your doorstep, but you don't have to constantly open the door."
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Check list:

  • Do you battle to turn off your cellular phone when you are at home or "off" work hours?
  • Do you constantly check your smart phone for email messages, even in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning?
  • Can you sit still for half an hour and do nothing?
  • Do you rely on caffeine and coffee to keep you alert and focused?
  • Can you create boundaries, between work and home. Do you feel desperate to prove yourself and feel the only way is to work at night or weekends?
  • Do you battle to fall asleep, or wake up in the middle of the night, unable to go back to sleep?
  • Do you feel that you need to strive for perfection – that everything you do from throwing a dinner party to completing a work project – takes your full commitment and energy and has to be exquisite
  • Are you a people-pleaser and unable to say no, even when you already feel over-loaded.
  • Are you snappy, easily irritated and angry?
  • Are you highly emotional, ready to laugh or cry at the smallest thing?

If you have answered yes to the more than five of the above, you are at risk of being addicted to stress and need to take action today. Check out our stress management programme.

The effect of stress

On your body:
  • Headaches
  • Back pain
  • Chest pains
  • Heart disease
  • Heart palpitations
  • High blood pressure
  • Depressed immune system
  • Upset stomach
  • Insomnia or over-sleeping

On your emotions:
  • Anxiety
  • Restless
  • Worrying
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Insecurity
  • Lack of concentrating and focus
  • Burnout
  • Forgetfulness

On your behaviour:
  • Over- or under-eating
  • Angry outbursts
  • Irrational behaviour
  • Social withdrawal
  • Crying spells
  • Moody
  • Conflict in relationships