We all know what it is like to experience stress, and we generally have a good idea of what contributes to our stress. To create a stress free life is unrealistic, and often undesirable, as challenges that help us grow and adapt in life are often associated with stress. Some stress is beneficial; it helps to be alert and improves concentration, however problems arise when there is an overload of stress or stress persists for prolonged periods.
A recent ‘wellbeing’ survey found 12% of Australians were experiencing stress in the severe range. Financial issues, personal health issues and family issues were identified as generating the most stress. Workplace issues were reported by a significant number of people (30%). Spending time with friends was reported as one the most common strategies for managing stress. Some reported less effective strategies such as gambling or drinking alcohol (despite 40% reporting alcohol use as a strategy, less than 20% found this effective).
Stress affects us physically and psychologically and is associated with increased risk for many physical and psychological health problems, such as heart disease or substance use problems. The good news is that stress can be managed, by first being aware when you’re stressed and adopting stress reduction strategies – as always, prevention is the key.
What are effective strategies to manage stress?
Evaluate your Life
Unhelpful stress, particularly prolonged stress, often goes unnoticed and can contribute to problems in all areas of our life. This is why it is important to regularly evaluate your life, your values and goals; as unplanned changes in your life can cause a great deal of angst, concern and stress. Taking time to evaluate your current wellbeing can help to ensure you focus on what is important to you in both your professional and personal life; and prevent any negative effects of stress. Often the first signs of stress are physical, so monitor our physical health, evaluate and act.
Overall Physical Wellbeing and Good Health
The links between physical and mental health are well known. Physical exercise is known to stimulate feelings of joy, positivity and improve mood. Improving your physical wellbeing (diet and general health), allows you to take control of your life and reduce stress.
Relaxation and Enjoyable Activities
A variety of stress reduction strategies are available. Relaxation activities are particularly useful, yoga for example, and more formal relaxation practices such as; meditation, mindfulness and progressive muscle relaxation. Taking time out of your routine to participate in enjoyable activities can also reduce stress. Plan activities that you enjoy; spend time with loved ones, ride your bike, read a book or work on a DIY project.
Stress is a serious, yet often underestimated condition that affects us all. Seek professional support if you feel your stress is becoming overwhelming and seriously impacting on your life. Many interventions are available to assist you to reduce your stress. You can take steps to reduce it, so long as you are proactive and willing to change various aspects of your existing lifestyle.
 Australian Psychological Society (2011). Stress and wellbeing in Australia 2011: A state of the nation survey. The Australian Psychological Society Limited.