Shining a Light on Stress

We all experience stress from time to time and according to a 2015 Australian Psychological Society survey, “35 per cent of Australians report having a significant level of distress in their lives.” But, before we explore how to deal with it, let’s take a look at what it is and how it affects us physically and mentally.

What is stress?
Stress is a physical, mental and emotional response to change and you’re probably quite familiar with the feelings of unease and agitation that result when you no longer feel in control of your circumstances. While stress does, in certain situations, have an upside – it can push you to meet a deadline or achieve a career or life goal – it becomes a problem when it continues for an extended period of time and begins to impact your world.

Types of stress
The Australian Psychological Society identifies two distinct types of stress: Acute stress which “lasts only for a short period of time” and chronic stress which “continues for a long period of time and does not go away”.

What causes stress?
Different people have different triggers and the degree to which stress affects you will depend on your personality and how you respond to challenging situations. Stress can be triggered by something as simple as standing in a long queue or as complex as long-term financial pressure. It is also often caused by life-changing events like getting married, having a baby or buying a house. According to a 2016 survey conducted by WayAhead, the five main causes of stress in Australia are: financial (45%), health issues (44%), family issues (43%), trying to be healthier (39%) and health of loved ones (37%).

How does stress affect your body?
To begin with, the symptoms of stress range from headaches and irritability to sleep issues and tummy troubles. Left unchecked, however it can result in more serious problems, including high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, fertility issues and heart disease.

… and your mind?
According to findings published by WayAhead, “75% of Australians surveyed admitted that stress in their lives adversely affected their physical health while only 64% said it affected their mental health.” The truth is that stress has serious implications for body and mind, with research showing that chronic stress can trigger mood and anxiety disorders.

So, how can you manage your stress?
There are many ways to manage stress. Here are five simple, but highly effective strategies, worth implementing.

  1. Exercise regularly – try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise (e.g. walking briskly) five times a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (e.g. swimming, cycling, running) over the course of a week.
  2. Practise relaxation techniques – there are some wonderful options out there, including yoga, meditation, deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.
  3. Take time out – identify what it is that helps you to destress and make it happen, whether it’s treating yourself to a massage, meeting a friend for a walk, reading or listening to music.
  4. Take on only what you can manage – put boundaries in place to ensure that you’re not overburdened and to help you keep your stress levels in check.
  5. Speak to an expert – if you’re struggling to get a grip on your stress, consider talking to your doctor or a psychologist who can help you identify your triggers and put stress-busting strategies in place.

Support R U OK?Day 2019
This September 12, R U OK? Day is asking all Australians to ‘Trust the signs, trust your gut, ask R U OK?’ and start an R U OK? conversation that has the power to change a life. To find out more, visit ruok.org.au.