Stress can be positive or negative. When stress sparks personal achievement or life enjoyment and appreciation (positive stress), it helps us feel enthusiastic, creative, productive and motivated. But stress can easily spiral out of control, becoming overwhelming and negative distress, taking its toll on our physical, mental and emotional health and well-being.
Stress can lead to specific physical, mental and emotional symptoms. According to the American Psychological Association, 43% of adults suffer adverse health effects from stress, and 75 to 90% of all visits to a primary health care facility are stress related. Juggling professional life, educational or self-development needs, family schedules, financial challenges, career advancement, and child- and elder-care concerns are only a few of our common stress triggers.
WHAT IS WORK-LIFE BALANCE?
One hundred percent balance between work and the rest of our lives is not realistically possible but you can try to get as close to a perfect balance as possible. The top stress complaints I regularly encounter are family or marital problems, deadlines, work-related stress, fatigue and a sense that life seems unsatisfactory and unbalanced – a pervading feeling of ‘is this all there is?’.
The good news is that radical lifestyle changes aren’t required. Standing back, trying to see the bigger picture, then making one or two small, personally strategic changes are often all that’s necessary.
WHY DO WE NEED THIS BALANCE?
When considering the dimensions of our ideal lives, we must include: the physical body; the mental body or intellect; the emotional body; the soul body (related to life meaning and purpose); the occupational or work dimension; the social dimension of interaction with others and groups; and also the environmental dimension, where we form part of a bigger picture from communities to the natural, global and universal environment. To remain in healthy and happy balance we have to allocate enough time to each of these dimensions.
As soon as one is out of balance, the scale tips and we become overwhelmed and distressed.
MEN AND WOMEN
Most illnesses and ailments have an underlying current of long-term stress at the source. Women’s stresses differ to men’s. Women often feel harassed from trying to balance work and family, feeling stressed if either one suffers. Most women regard themselves as successful only if they have a good family and career life. Men, on the other hand, will feel good about themselves even if only their careers are going well. Working mothers whether married or single, face higher stress levels than men in the workplace as well as at home.
Women’s stress symptoms include fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, overeating, insomnia, digestive problems, dysthymia (mild depression) or serious depression, rashes and other skin complaints. In women, the rates of heart disease and alcoholism (previously thought of as men’s stress diseases) show an alarming increase.
Other stress-related symptoms include: symptoms that mimic a heart attack’, anxiety, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes mellitus, eczema, irritable bowel syndrome, severe menopausal symptoms and asthma.
Play and fun
Dance on the lawn or in your lounge; play your favourite music; swing your arms from side to side as you did as a child; play with young children; doodle; write or scribble a funny or heartfelt poem; draw; paint; do pottery; garden. Ask: what makes my heart and my soul sing, what brings me joy and happiness?
On waking, spend a few moments lying in bed, being grateful for your life, your inner strength, sensing the deep seed of joy at your core, and for this new day. Affirm that good things will happen today. Enjoy the delight of the fresh morning air, the sparkle of early sunlight, the sound of birds. Sense the life flowing through your body. Notice your breath, the pulsing of blood in your fingertips, the tug of gravity upon your arms, legs, and back. Take a few deep slow breaths. This is a good time to write in your journal, even if only for a few minutes: dreams, thoughts, ideas, feelings.
Cultivate serenity early in the morning and carry the feeling with you throughout the day. We control how we respond to irritations, worries, doubts and fears. Preparing the mind like this calmly centres you throughout the day.
Tired eye soother
Take a short break from your computer and splash your eyes with cold water or rub an ice cube around each eye, then close your eyes and press gently with your fingertips over your closed eyelids.
Lie back in your chair or on a bed, place sliced cucumber or a wet tea bag over your closed eyes and relax for a few minutes.
Do eye exercises: blink a few times, focus on objects far and then near you, move your eyes in a circle, keeping your head still, rub the palms of your hands vigorously together and place over your closed eyelids.
One Minute Stress Busters
Do this practice all through your day at work and at home, or whenever you feel stressed or anxious.
Breathe in deeply through your nose on a slow count of three. Push your stomach out as you breathe in. Hold it for a count of three. Breathe out through your mouth on a slow count of six. Repeat two or more times. Try this every time you feel stressed, anxious or worried. Do it every morning before you get up and every night before falling asleep. Feel your pulse rate by putting your fingers gently on your wrist below the thumb. When you’re stressed, it’s fast. Do the slow breathing and feel how your pulse rate slows down – a quick-fix stress buster!
Support your body for internal balance
Have regular mini-breaks every two hours from sitting or standing to prevent your muscles from remaining in one position all the time. Stretch your neck, arms and shoulders, roll your shoulders clockwise and anticlockwise, clasp your hands behind your back and lift your arms, shake your legs, drink herbal tea, look out the window. This will prevent tension headaches and neck muscle spasm.
Ergonomics – invest in a good quality chair that follows the natural soft S-curve of your back. Your upper legs should be straight, knees bent, lower legs perpendicular to upper legs, feet comfortably flat on the floor. Elbows, forearms and hands should be in line with the keyboard.
Fresh clean air should circulate freely. Have greenery near you – a pot plant, fresh flowers, your own small herbal garden in a pot.
Exercise regularly. NIA technique dance (a blend of martial and healing arts with dance and spiritual self-healing), yoga, t’ai chi, Pilates, belly dancing, modern or pole dancing, and taking walks in nature.
Balancing food tips
- Eat regular, healthy, small meals. Always have fruit, veggies, yoghurt, nuts and seeds handy!
- Drink chamomile, mint, passionflower, lemon balm, ginseng, lavender and valerian herbal teas, with a spoonful of honey.
- Calming foods include unrefined, complex, low GI carbohydrates, nuts and bananas.
- Energising foods include small amounts of protein (cheese, eggs, chicken, meat) that can give you a boost when stress tires you out.
- Take a daily dose of vitamin B-complex to support your nervous system together with an antioxidant and multivitamin combination (vitamins A, E, C, minerals zinc, selenium, copper, chromium, iron, calcium and magnesium).
- The herb Ginkgo biloba boosts your concentration and memory.
- Improve brain power with: beans/legumes, lean meat, whole grain and enriched cereals, poultry, fish such as trout, salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel, dairy products, brewer’s yeast, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables.
Listen to music
This helps you balance your mood. Uplifting music with a beat for a low mood; slow and flowing music when you feel overwhelmed and uptight.
Balancing tools for your workplace
Walk in a nearby park in your lunch break. A small chill room at work can help employees sit back, relax and listen to soothing music for a few minutes. Use pictures or photographs as focus points for mindfulness.
Sufficient rest for resilience and balance
A five-minute power nap during the mid-afternoon lag in energy will do wonders for your balance and energy.
Relationships for balance
Make enough time for family and friends for the social dimension needed for human health and happiness.
Tend and befriend
Women react differently under stress to men using the ‘tend-and-befriend’ response. Women (and female animals from all species) experiencing stress tend to nurture themselves and their young and form bonds with others during long-term chronic stress.
Close relationships with partners
- Work is often used as an excuse to avoid relationship issues.
- Relationships need time, togetherness, joy, fun, play and laughter.
- If you’re single and lonely, make an effort to meet people: join interest groups, attend group activities like yoga, workshops or dance classes, join creativity groups.
First have a relationship with yourself
- Use positive self-talk and affirmations to remove doubt, fear and worry.
- Actively cultivate a sense of humour by watching comedies, reading joke books, laughing with your partner, family and friends.
- Know and celebrate your own strengths, values, goals, priorities.
- Be assertive — learn how to ask for what you want or need.
- Set boundaries. We often allow loved ones to stretch us far beyond our limits because we find it harder to say no to kids or partners. It’s important to make time for family, but also to make time for yourself; for physical, mental and spiritual health.
Balance is the key to work-life, play, fun and stress management. Activity, productivity, creativity and self-motivation should be balanced with quiet soul time, moderate exercise and regular relaxation time.