De-stress not Distress

Stress is a normal part of life. It is the body’s natural reaction to change, and like change, stress can be either positive or negative. The positive aspects can keep us alert, motivated and energized.

However, your body is only meant to handle stress in small bursts. The negative aspects occur when there is prolonged activation of the stress response, which can lead to both physical and emotional wear and tear on the body. Unsurprisingly, this is called distress.

 

Negative coping strategies

Stress also becomes harmful when people turn to excessive use of substances or negative behaviours in order to cope. These include alcohol, tobacco, drugs, food, gambling and even shopping.

These substances and behaviors may provide some short term relief. For most people however, instead of relieving the stress and returning the body to a balanced state, the short term positive feelings disappear and the body stays in a stressed state, which leads to more problems.

The good news is that people can learn to manage stress and limit the negative effect it can have. The first step is recognising that there are some events that you cannot control. When you accept that, there are a lot of positive things you can do.

If your stress is causing anxiety, worry or fear, consider the following:

Social Media

Contrary to popular belief, browsing social media does not reduce your anxieties. You should try to limit the time you spend ‘just browsing’ (social media and the internet) and watching the news.

Exercise and relaxation

Try to take exercise regularly. Your body is better equipped to fight stress when it is fit. If Covid-19 restrictions are limiting your access to your regular exercise venue, try simple exercise such as going for a walk (maintaining social distancing of course).

Learn and practice relaxation techniques; try meditation, yoga, or tai-chi. Even simple deep breathing exercises can help relieve the effects of stress when practiced regularly.

Everyone relieves stress or relaxes in a different way. Hobbies such as cooking, gardening, music or art projects can all help with relaxation and even exercise.

Sleep

Be protective of your sleep routine, your body needs adequate sleep to help it recover from stressful events. If you are having difficulty in falling asleep, try the relaxation techniques above.

Staying Connected

Social distancing and increases in working from home can lead to isolation from your support system and may have you feeling alone. Social withdrawal increases loneliness and depression. You can use social media in a positive way, by using it to connect to family and friends who can support you through these difficult times. Snapchat, Zoom, Facetime and all the other social media tools can help us reduce the effects of isolation and help us stay positive. Focus on healthy relationships and try to surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself.

Employee Assistance Programs

If you are really struggling to deal with your stress and your company has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), you should seriously consider using it, that’s what it’s there for. These health and well-being programs can offer access to free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to employees who have personal and/or work related problems.

While many people manage their stress without external help, there are definitely times where that little bit of extra support can make a big difference.

It feels like John Quinn has been involved in safety forever. He started as a union safety representative, then a firefighter, an occupational health nurse, and for the last 18 years an HS&E advisor for a range of industries including Nuclear, Aerospace, Construction, Social Services, Marine Transport, Smelting and Demolition. John is the co-creator of www.safetyknowledgehub.ca