STRESS has been around since the beginning of time. However, people in prehistoric times viewed stress differently from modern folk.
Let's look at Cave Mum on her way to Cave Mart with her Cave kids. Out of the corner of her eye, she spots a saber-toothed tiger. Upon seeing the man-eating cat, stress is triggered and results in a "fight or flight" reaction.
Just what is the stress response? It is the body and the mind performing a myriad of activities all designed to deal with a physical threat.
During Cave Mum's fight, stress is released. After she kills the predator, she falls into a deep sleep and wakes up refreshed. Finally, the stress cycle is complete.
Hence, if you have a problem with your boss, the healthiest thing to do is to punch him out. But this is not always a wise choice.
So, we rev up our engines without releasing the clutch and overheat. Because of the 21st century demands placed on us, this self-preservation response becomes life threatening.
Most of the threats we encounter today are psychological, not physical. Such as: "Why didn't I get promoted?" or "How come I always get the rotten assignment?"
Even the imagined can be as stressful as the real. The body does not differentiate between a life-threatening situation and office backstabbing; it registers a threat and responds.
The body, like any machine, is susceptible to wear and tear. The more often you are stressed, the more worn out you will feel, and this can lead to burnout. People who do not manage stress well complain of falling sick often, or having a cold that refuses to go away.
Here's what happens in a stressful situation:
The muscles tense, making it easier to run or fight. After a stressful day, is your neck stiff or your body strained?
Blood pressure elevates to pump more oxygen to the brain. When people describe themselves as "getting red in the face", it means that blood is rushing through their face to oxygenate their brains.
The heart rate quickens to deliver more energy to the muscles. Stressed people describe themselves as feeling constantly wound up.
Great amounts of B vitamins and vitamin C are released.
Saliva drains from the mouth to conserve digestive energy. We all have experienced a dry mouth during stressful times.
Blood drains from hands and feet to limit blood loss. The expression, "I have cold feet", comes from this phenomena.
Production of sex hormones is repressed. It is not uncommon for a couple to adopt a child and 10 months later, have one of their own.
If you are looking for a quick fix to get rid of stress, it does not exist. Managing stress can be done at the following:
Learn and use time management and organisational skills;
Say "No" to 25 per cent of requests, and remember the short version of "No" is "No";
Put a "do not disturb" sign on your desk at least one hour a day; and
Conduct stand-up meetings
After a presentation, someone approached me and said: "I hate my job, I hate my boss, I hate everyone at work, what should I do?"
"Quit" was my answer. His reply: "I can't quit my job, I get six weeks of vacation and it is only 4km from my house."
I said: "So you can quit, but you have decided not to because of the vacation and the short commute?" Just by realising he had more control made his job less stressful. Sometimes changing your perception of the stressor is all it takes.
Learn to relax. The minute you start to relax, your body starts to repair itself. Don't confuse it. For example, when you work in your garden, don't take your phone.
Watch what you eat. What we eat affects our stress level, so limit fatty foods, salt, sugar and caffeine. Take vitamin C and B complex supplements
Exercise. It is the best stress-buster. If you hate jogging, a 20-minute walk three times a week is a great way to start. Also, you do not need to join an expensive gym with high-tech sound systems and don $300 leopard skin leotards. The health facilities at the local YMCA or community centre will do just as well.
Laugh out loud. The best gift you can give a co-worker is a good laugh. Laughing initiates the relaxation response quicker than anything else.