Contributing Author: Janet Caputo, PT, OCS
A bad marriage, an unhealthy relationship, a cruel boss, and a troubled economy are all potential causes of stress because they can produce feelings of anger and depression. There are physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral signs associated with stress:
Physical signs: dizziness, general aches and pains, grinding teeth, clenched jaws, headaches, indigestion, muscle tension, difficulty sleeping, racing heart, ringing in the ears, stooped posture, sweaty palms, tiredness, exhaustion, trembling, weight gain, weight loss, and upset stomach.
Mental signs: constant worry, difficulty making decisions, forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, lack of creativity, loss of sense of humor, and poor memory.
Emotional signs: anger, anxiety, crying, depression, feeling powerless, frequent mood swings, irritability, loneliness, negative thinking, nervousness, and sadness.
Behavioral signs: bossiness, compulsive overeating, critical attitude of others, explosive actions, frequent job changes, impulsive actions, increased use of drugs or alcohol, withdrawal from relationships, and withdrawal form social situations.
Defense mechanisms to reduce emotional stress
- DEVELOP YOUR SELF-AWARENESS: Discover your strengths, weaknesses, values, and beliefs. You will not experience inner conflict (stress) when your life reflects your values and beliefs. When feeling overwhelmed, remind yourself of your strengths (the things you do well) to improve your self-esteem.
- SET REALISTIC GOALS AND EXPECTATIONS: Realize that you cannot be 100% successful at everything all at once.
- REDUCE STRESS: Continue to do things that you enjoy, manage time effectively (do not overextend yourself with obligations), tackle one thing at a time (do not worry about what is to come), take a break, and ask for help.
- LEARN HOW TO RELAX AND DO IT EVERYDAY: Relaxing calms your body and mind. It takes commitment, practice and sensitivity to basic needs for peace, self-awareness, and reflection. Some relaxation techniques include: deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation (becoming consciously aware of tense muscles and attempting to relax them), guided imagery (imagining yourself in a calm and peaceful environment, like on an island), listening to music (music calms you or lifts your mood), biofeedback (to gain control over bodily functions: temperature, heart rate, muscle tension).
- KEEP A POSITIVE ATTITUDE: A positive attitude and self-esteem keeps you in control because stress is viewed as a challenge rather than as a problem. Some suggestions: 1) stay calm, 2) remind yourself that you can conquer any situation, 3) be objective and realistic since there are some things that are beyond your control, 4) maintain perspective and be flexible; consider all solutions and select the most acceptable and feasible, 5) consider the worst possible outcome (e.g. death) – chances are that will not happen, 6) understand that you will learn something from every situation
- DO NOT BE AN INTROVERT: Studies show that being extroverted increases longevity and reduces heart disease. Extroverts are quite social and establish important friendships which are viewed as safety nets to diffuse stress. They are open and agreeable which may be traits that help them form friendships.
- ASSERT YOURSELF: You do not have to meet others’ expectations or demands. It’s OK to say “no”. Being assertive allows you to stand up for rights and beliefs while respecting those of others.
- TAKE RESPONSIBILITY: Control what you can and leave behind what you cannot control.
- EAT AND DRINK SENSIBLY: Abusing alcohol and food adds to stress. Make small, positive changes in your diet over time. Eat well-balanced meals that include a wide variety of healthy foods. Control the portions of food you eat. Minimize your consumption of fat, sugar, salt, and alcohol.
- STOP SMOKING: Nicotine acts as a stimulant and brings on more stress symptoms. GET ENOUGH REST: The time you spend resting should be long enough to relax your mind as well as your body. Taking a nap at mid-day might help reduce stress.
- EXERCISE REGULARLY: Aerobic exercise releases endorphins which are natural substances within your body that help you feel better and maintain a positive attitude. Those who engage in aerobic exercise for 30 minutes, 3 times per week, are less likely to feel stressed or suffer from depression.
We will continue to rid the roller coaster of life until we die. Managing emotional stress will not only make this ride an enjoyable one but also protect us from heart disease!
Contributing author Janet Caputo, PT, OCS, is a physical therapist specializing in the management of orthopedic and sports injuries with a special interest in vestibular rehab and falls prevention at Mackarey Physical Therapy in downtown Scranton. She is presently a completing her doctor of physical therapy degree at the University of Scranton.
Read Part I of this two-part series on stress and heart disease.