Fresh from Operation Transformation, Dr Eddie Murphy tackles the topic of stress.
Here’s the thing, we all need a bit of stress to get out of bed in the morning. It helps us to perform under pressure and motivates us to do our best. We need stress for creativity and learning.
However, in life we all experience high stress events – such as relationship difficulties, illness, bereavement, unemployment. With toxic stress, what is the cost to your physical and emotional health?
How long can you last like that? Too often people try to cope with stress in ways that make the problem worse. It’s easy to turn to drink to unwind at the end of the day, fill up on rubbish comfort food, space out in front the telly, or use drink or drugs (prescribed or not) to relax. When it comes to tackling any emotional difficulty, I truly believe that the more information you possess about that difficulty, the closer you are to overcoming it – and it’s the same for controlling stress.
So let’s ask some key questions.
What is stress, and when does it become toxic? Stress is a feeling that we get when struggling to cope with the pressures of life. When under stress our body responds by producing two powerful hormones: adrenaline and cortisol. The body doesn’t distinguish between physical and psychological threats. So whether it’s having an argument with a friend or being late for an important appointment, your body reacts almost as strongly as if you were facing a life or death situation.
These hormones are the body’s alarm call or emergency response. The heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens and senses become sharper.
When the stress is persistent, chronic and long term, the situation is toxic. Stress then starts to cause harm to our health, mood, productivity, relationships and quality of life. Extensive exposure to stress can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress impacts on nearly every system in your body. It can cause high blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase the life risk of heart attack, stroke and cancer, contribute to infertility and leave you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.
It can also cause ulcers, migraines and insomnia. There’s nothing good to say about chronic stress!
Approach 1. Changing how you think about the situation
This is the most important strategy, however it’s the hardest to work on. In my book “Becoming Your Real Self – A practical toolkit for managing life’s challenges’, I provide these steps.
Set realistic expectations: Many of us set unrealistic expectations, both for ourselves and others, which can be a source of self-inflicted stress. Try to be realistic in the goals you set for yourself and others. When we make our expectations more reasonable, we gain a sense of control over our lives, and are able to plan and prepare ourselves both physically and psychologically
Approach 2. Increasing your coping strategies
Exercise: Researchers have found that physical exercise can reduce stress through its release of endorphins, the body’s natural antidepressant hormone; and by helping us to use up the excess energy that stress can create.
Many of us find that it can become difficult to concentrate on a given task, because our mind is filled with preoccupying thoughts, concerns or worries. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing your attention on what is happening in a precise moment. While this may sound simple, some people find that they tend to slip into absent-mindedness or automatic thinking. Focusing awareness, such as the feeling of your feet while walking, or focusing on the feeling of breathing in and out, can help to reduce stress responses.
Talk about your feelings
Talk to a friend, spouse, brother or sister – or anyone who makes you feel comfortable. If you do not feel you have anyone you can talk to, there are many telephone support lines available.