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Coping with stress

Helping you cope with long-term and short-term stress

There are a variety of coping mechanisms for stress, from breathing exercises to herbal remedies, and it is worth trying a few to see which work for you. On this page, stress advisor Marianna Kilburn discusses a range of ways to cope with stress.

An introduction to stress coping mechanisms

In our modern society, it is difficult to avoid the increased pressures of a busy life. All too often, this puts extra stress upon us to perform at an increasingly demanding level.

You may feel that you are going to buckle under all the pressure. However, if you can find a coping strategy which is effective for you, then there is no reason as to why this should happen.

It is important to learn some long-term stress management techniques that you can perfect over time, so that you are continually able to keep the symptoms at bay. As well as this, short term stress-busting techniques can help you get through a particularly difficult day or moment.

If you are facing a particularly pressurised experience or are finding it difficult to put these techniques into practise, then medication, either herbal or conventional, may also be of benefit.

Long-term self-help

There are a number of steps you can take to help yourself by changing your diet and lifestyle:

  • Alcohol (and drugs) mask stress symptoms. Remember this is only temporary and you will still have to deal with the problem at a later stage, so it is best to stop taking these or reduce them to a minimum
  • Caffeine – decrease the amount of tea, coffee, soft drinks, chocolate and all sources of caffeine you consume as caffeine can elevate the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol
  • Diet – eating a healthy balanced diet is always recommended to ensure that you receive the correct amount of essential minerals needed for body and brain health and in turn reducing your vulnerability to stress. The B group of vitamins are particularly well-known for their invaluable properties in helping brain function
  • Keep hydrated. Any slight dehydration can lead to palpitations. Certain sensors in the body increase the sympathetic nervous system tone, causing a cascade of hormones that aim to retain fluid. These hormones are the stress hormones, obviously contributing to the stress response
  • Breathing techniques are an excellent way of calming the body and release nervous tension. Learn some easy breathing techniques that you can use throughout the day to help you de-stress.

Remember that prolonged periods of stress can be damaging to physical and mental health. If you feel that your stress symptoms are not improving, no matter what you do to help yourself, speak to your doctor and ask for help.

Short term self-help

There are times when no matter how hard you try, you can’t avoid the stress. So what can you do to help yourself? When faced with a stressful situation, it can sometimes be very useful to have a few techniques to help relieve stress quickly. Try these out for yourself:

  • Laughter. Distract yourself by reading something funny, talking to someone who is funny or sharing a joke with someone you get on with. Humour helps relieve the symptoms of stress by producing ‘feel-good’ chemicals in the brain
  • Deep breathing. Learn a few breathing techniques to help you relax that you can carry out anywhere. Simply counting to 10 before responding to a stressful situation if often all that is required.
  • Take a walk. Get away from it all and clear your head by taking a brisk walk. Sometimes a change of scenery and some fresh air can help you forget the stress under which you find yourself
  • Speak to a friend or a colleague. If you have a work problem, a colleague may be able to help you by taking responsibility for a few of the tasks you have not got round to
  • Make a cup of tea. Herbal tea is best. Try peppermint tea to calm any digestive symptoms or chamomile tea to help you relax. Even the few minutes spent making a cup (or pot) of tea can help you to take your mind off the stressful situation you find yourself in.

Medication

Medication for stress can be split into two main categories: conventional and herbal.

Conventional medication is usually seen as a last resort (even by your GP) due to the potential for these treatments to cause side effects. Drugs that may be prescribed for stress include the benzodiazepine group of medicines (such as the infamous valium), assorted forms of sleeping tablets and anti-depressants. These may be used as a short-term measure in acute situations such as a sudden bereavement, but long-term treatment is generally avoided, even by the most orthodox of doctors.

Herbal remedies are preferred treatments for stress by many as they do not have the side effects of conventional medicines. Licensed herbal products containing valerian have been used traditionally to treat stress and anxiety. Other herbs used include Avena sativa (to help reduce mild anxiety) and St. John’s wort  (for low mood).

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