Being a leader in the contract food service industry since 1975, at Gourmet Services Inc. we recognize that effectively coping with stress, managing stress and finding ways to reduce unnecessary or unhealthy levels of stress are important life skills – skills that we all need. Most of us will suffer from potentially dangerous or debilitating symptoms of stress and stress related issues at some point in our lives. Stress is a response to an inappropriate level of pressure. Stress can be described as the distress that is caused as a result of demands placed on physical or mental energy. Stress can arise as the result of varying factors. Different people find different events and situations more or less stressful than others, individuals have a range of events or situations that are particularly stressful to them, most people would agree that major events such as losing a job, divorce or money problems would be stressful for anyone. Many of the most stressful situations in life come as a result of unplanned changes in personal circumstance. For many people, a personal program of stress management, focused on stress prevention as much as relief, is an essential part of modern living.
Negative stress, tension, anxiety and environment are extremely common stress points in our lives. Anxiety is caused when life events are felt to be threatening to our physical, social or mental well being. The amount of anxiety we experience depends on how threatening life events are perceived to be. Our blood vessels near the skin constrict, to slow bleeding if injury is sustained, and to increase the blood supply to the muscles, heart, lungs and brain. Our digestion is inhibited, our bladder relaxes, our heart rate and breathing speed increase, and our body sweats more. When affected, we become more alert, our eyes dilate and a surge of adrenaline gives rise to an increase in energy. These responses are extremely useful in situations of physical danger but unlike for primitive humans, many of the anxieties of modern life are not ones that can be solved by a ‘fight or flight’ reaction or by any physical response. Modern day stressful situations tend to continue for much longer periods of time and an immediate response does not relieve the anxiety-provoking situation. Therefore, prolonged states of anxiety can lead to symptoms of stress, which prevents us from returning to our normal, relaxed state.
Tension on the other hand is a natural reaction to anxiety. It’s part of a primitive survival instinct where physiological changes prepare us for ‘fight or flight’. This concerned response, as it is known, results in a chemical Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) being released in our body and causes our muscles to tense and ready for action.
Our environment can also make us stressed; noise, crowds, poor lighting, pollution or other peripheral factors over which we have no control, can cause us to feel anxious and irritable. Adjusting to modern-day life can be a major source of stress. We now communicate with people in many different ways, either through the Internet or mobile phones and the expectation of a quick response is expected. We also have many more products available to us and some of us feel an expectation to maintain a certain lifestyle and level of consumerism. In addition, for many single mothers it’s the norm to provide and manage a full or part-time job while being the primary caregiver and nurturer of a family. All of these changes mean that stress is now unfortunately commonplace in both our personal and professional lives. Many of us don’t act positively to reduce the stress in our lives until physical symptoms force us to consider how our lifestyle is affecting our well being. Don’t leave stress unchecked or wait until it makes us ill, learning to recognize when we’re stressed and taking the steps to minimize the feelings and avoid any additional pressure is key.
Chronic stress has been linked to the tendency of the body to store fat around the mid section. Poor stress-management, for some of us, is perhaps the most significant barrier to weight loss. Being aware of how our body works and deals with stress can help us to manage stress and stressful situations. After a stressful period our body can go into a ‘recovery mode’ where increased appetite and food cravings become more prevalent. At the same time metabolic rates drop to conserve energy. Being aware of these patterns can help to manage our stress levels and through nutrition and diet we can help our body recover from stressful periods more rapidly and minimize negative effects such as weight gain. On stressful days, we should try to eat little and often, this will keep our metabolism ticking and we’ll l minimize peaks and lows in energy levels through out the day. Eating breakfast is a great way to begin, even though we may not feel hungry or believe we don’t have enough time. Eating breakfast helps to kick-start our metabolism for the day and also helps to stabilize our blood sugar level, which will in turn reduce stress. We should look for fruit or fruit juice and a whole-grain cereal for maximum benefits. We should also make sure that we eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables daily and focus on foods containing Vitamins B and C, and Magnesium:
B Vitamins helps us feel more energetic after a stressful episode. Bananas, leafy green vegetables, avocados, nuts, seeds and also meat, fish and dairy products all contain essential B vitamins.
Vitamin C – The adrenal glands contain the largest store of vitamin C in the body and are important in the production of stress hormones. Eat citrus fruit such as oranges, tomatoes, peppers, kiwi fruit, leafy green vegetables, broccoli and other foods rich in Vitamin C.
Magnesium –Helps to relax muscles and reduce anxiety. We increase our magnesium intake by eating nuts, especially Brazil nuts, but also hazelnuts and peanuts. Leafy green vegetables, whole grains, especially oats, brown rice and beans are also good sources of magnesium. We can also take a relaxing bath with a good handful of Epsom salts (available at your pharmacist) as these contain magnesium that can be absorbed through your skin.
People are better able to cope with stress when their bodies are healthy. Poor health in itself is a major source of stress. Incorporating periods of physical exercise into our routine will help to improve our muscle control, make us feel healthier and increase our self-esteem. We also have to improve our diet and avoid stimulants as much as possible. Excess caffeine or nicotine can make individuals feel anxious or on-edge.
Also, ensuring we get enough sleep is essential. ‘Burnout’ is the term used to describe the feeling of being unable to cope because of pressures of work. Burnout is generally a state of long-term exhaustion and lack of interest in work, and tends to result from over-work over a long period of time, or from consistent and excessive stress. Although burnout was originally thought to result directly from excess work and stress, doctors now think that there is much more likely to be an element of disposition involved. In other words, some people are very unlikely to ever suffer from burnout, however much pressure they are placed under, while others may suffer from it without being placed under what most people would consider excess pressure. People considering themselves to be suffering from burnout tend to be very, very tired, and often find it difficult to make decisions. They can struggle to find energy for anything. They may also suffer from other mental health problems such as depression but, even if they don’t reach a state of clinical mental illness, they may suffer from doubts about their ability or effectiveness, or low self-esteem.
There is growing evidence that some level of stress is productive, and even necessary to many people to provide motivation. But excessive stress, especially over a prolonged period of time, is generally agreed to be bad for us. Felling ‘Burnout’ left unattended can lead to ME/CFS, which can become a lifelong neurological condition. Myalgic Encephalopathy (ME) and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) are names for a debilitating illness that affects millions of people worldwide. MS/CFS sufferers can experience the feelings of ‘Burnout’ over prolonged periods of time. Symptoms include reduced concentration and poor memory, as well as physical effects such as aching muscles and severe headaches.
There are steps that we can be take to reduce the risk of being affected by stress and many of them are a matter of creating simple daily habits like learning to recognize when we’re stressed and knowing what is likely to cause stress can help avoid such things in the future. Keeping a record of what situations make us stressed and see how we can deal with them in alternate methods next time. Learning to relax is critical. Many of us don’t include relaxation time in our schedules. Conscious relaxation is important for body and mind and can help us deal with the negatives of stress. Effective time management allows the amount of work or other commitments undertaken to be regulated, reduces the uncertainty of not having enough time to complete every task required and allows for the planning of ‘time off’ periods in which to relax. Don’t over-commit yourself and be prepared to say ‘No’ if the load is too great. It’s common for people to overestimate how much can be achieved in a particular space of time, so leave free time to cope with the unexpected. Ensure that you get enough fun out of life. Plan time in the day to do something that gives you pleasure. Looking forward to such times helps when you have to cope with less pleasant aspects of life and don’t dwell on failures, reward yourself for your successes. Accept that everyone has limits and cannot succeed at everything and reflect on what you have achieved.
Prevention is better than cure and we must learn to recognize early on when we’re suffering from being stressed and ‘Burn-out’. There are so many things we can do to help alleviate the stress in our life, our diets, learning to relax and incorporating time to relax as part of our daily routine can help us to manage the symptoms of our stress. By considering some of these approaches, we’ll be able to think about and experiment with what works best for us individually. Which approaches are most effective in relieving both the causes and symptoms of your stress?