We all get stressed but often the key to coping is getting into simple habits such as regularly walking your dog – or someone else’s!
‘I’m stressed!’ If this applies to you, you’re in good company. Stress is a major problem of modern times. Experts estimate that a staggering 80% of illnesses are caused by stress, but the good news is that most of us have the tools to knock it on the head. Here, occupational therapist and counsellor KARIN TILNEY offers tried and tested advice that she has seen help her clients, time after time…
Being authentic about your feelings and helping others are two great ways to combat stress, says Cape Town counsellor Karin Tilney
10 stressbusters for happy living
It’s important to know what makes you stressed. Common causes include relationship difficulties, finances, perceived loss of control, lack of clarity about your role/value, unrealistic expectations and difficult transitions. But even more important is doing something about it! Here are 10 strategies that can make a big difference.
- Face up to stress
The key to effective stress management is proactivity. Do something about your stress instead of denying its existence: procrastinating simply increases it. Take it seriously if close family or friends say you’re stressed. Learn to recognise stress symptoms in your own body.
- Get out!
A balanced lifestyle is critical. Adequate sleep and a healthy diet are obvious, but are you exercising? Endorphins, the ‘feel-good’ hormones, are released when you exercise. Ensure you spend at least 20 minutes a day in sunlight to lift your mood and to improve your immune system. Spending time in nature and on creative activities can help. Animals are therapeutic. Walking your dog can make a positive difference to your stress and health. Plan a weekly outing somewhere beautiful. Fun is the best medicine!
- Speak life
Are you a positive or negative thinker? On average we think 30 000 thoughts a day, and every thought influences your emotions which in turn affect your behaviour. Challenge yourself to think more positively about yourself, others and your environment. If you ever catch yourself saying things like ‘I’m useless’, force yourself to think thoughts such as ‘There are many things I do well.’ More positive = less stressed.
- Don’t just sit there…
Boredom is a great stressor. Don’t complain about your country, rise up and make a difference. Altruism usually reduces stress. You can make a difference. Why not get involved in a Habitat for Humanity Build or volunteer at a charity organisation? Simple acts of kindness not only make a difference to the recipient but can make a positive difference to your day.
- Say what you feel (calmly!)
There are no wrong or right emotions, only unhealthy expressions of them. Emotional maturity is being aware of your emotion, determining if it is appropriate, and choosing a healthy way to express it. The benefits of expressing emotions calmly are less anxiety, improved self-esteem and healthier relationships. It’s vital to regularly express your feelings, and not just facts or your opinion. Talk about your fears, frustrations, sadness and dreams for the future. You are at a stage during which much loss can be experienced. Give yourself space and time to grieve the loss of a loved one.
Increase contact with positive people to optimise your emotional health | Photo: Tonya Hester
- Be authentic
Unresolved hurts from your past (rejection, dysfunctional childhood) can be one of the most covert forms of stress. What has wounded you? Manage this by talking about feelings openly and honestly (to close family and friends).
- Limit difficult people
Limit contact with difficult, draining, demeaning, demanding, dysfunctional people. Increase time with positive, inspiring people. With healthy boundaries your relationships become less stressful: ‘No’ is not a swearword! Calm, assertive communication means a healthier and nicer you.
- Get physical and use the right language
Touch reduces stress. When you feel stressed, hug your loved ones. Children also suffer from stress so never let a day go by without expressing your love for others using their particular ‘love language’. The love languages which different people respond to differently are: affection, acts of service, quality time, gifts and words of affirmation (compliments or telling them you love them). Try to work out the top love languages of each person dear to you, then give them a go!
- Be kind to yourself
No-one’s perfect. Have realistic expectations of yourself and others, they may never be what you want them to be! Never compare yourself to others, we are all gifted in different areas. Be kind to yourself. When last did you treat yourself to a pedicure or browse in your favourite bookshop? Always keep some energy in reserve for your family too.
- Don’t forget about God
Investigate your spirituality. God is a source of stress management, comfort and strength to many. ‘Do not fear, for I am with you… I will uphold you with my right hand’ (Isaiah 41:10).
LOOKING FOR WAYS TO HELP OTHERS OR INVESTIGATE YOUR SPIRITUALITY? CLICK HERE FOR SOME OPTIONS.
Karin Tilney is an occupational therapist and consultant counsellor in the heart transplant division of Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital, Cape Town