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Stress is not necessarily a negative thing: it can push you to perform better and faster than you might normally have done, leaving you with a great feeling of accomplishment. In dangerous situations, it may even extend your life. At least one study even suggests that a small amount of short-term (“acute”) stress may help boost your immune system!
What is bad is long-term (“chronic”) stress, a state of constant stress-arousal that depletes your energy and, in the long term, weakens your health.
There are different causes of stress: internal or external, long-term (chronic) or short-term (acute), big stressors and small stressors. External stressors include major life changes (births, deaths, marriages, moving, quitting smoking), environmental stressors (noise, poor air-quality, overcrowding), unpredictable events, family relationships, workplace stress, exam stress and social stress (such as public speaking or large gatherings). Internal stressors are pressure you put on yourself: fears, uncertainty or doubts, negative attitudes such as blame and unrealistic expectations are all stresses people place on themselves. Other factors, such as a poor diet or a lack of exercise or sleep, also contribute to the level of stress in your life.
Work is a major source of external stress for Canadian: a 2007 StatsCan survey found that more working women (28%) reported having a high-strain job than did men (20%). It also found that one-third of women felt quite a bit, or extremely, stressed most days at work, compared with 29% of men. The same survey also suggests that people who make less money tend to have higher levels of stress: almost 28% of workers with incomes of less than $20,000 had high-strain jobs, compared with only 18% of workers earning $60,000 or more.
So, are you too stressed? Here are a couple of warning signs to watch out for:
- Thoughts: Do you have trouble concentrating or remembering things? Are your thoughts constantly racing, or do you feel anxious a lot of the time?
- Feelings: Do you feel tired, anxious, stressed? Do you have mood swings, or feelings of despair?
- Physical symptoms: Do you get headaches, have trouble sleeping, feel tightness in your chest or feel constantly exhausted?
- Behaviour: Are you drinking more coffee or alcohol? Are you eating too much or too little? Do you tend to overreact? Are you having problems with your family or friends, or having trouble keeping up at work or at school?
To cope with stress, make sure you have strong social supports (friends, family or people you can trust). Next, practice saying “No”: turning down unwanted extra work or social engagements can give you more time to relax and recharge, helping you cope.
More and more people are turning to CAM modalities to help deal with the stresses of everyday life and, increasingly, research is showing that they may be on the right track. While there is no substitute for taking steps to reduce the stresses you put on yourself and others put on you, certain CAM modalities help you turn off the stress response, reducing the health effects of both long and short-term stress. Research suggests that mind-body therapies may be particularly effective.
Some FACT practitioners specialise specifically in stress management. To see a list of FACT practitioners who specialise in stress management, click here.
Which CAM modalities does research show most alleviate the negative effects of stress?
People practice meditation for many reasons. Some meditate to relax, to attain physical and mental balance, to cope with diseases or medical conditions, or to promote overall wellness. While beneficial on its own, meditation is also an important component in a number of CAM therapies, such as yoga, tai chi and qi gong. Read more about meditation and the research that is being done on it, or consult a list of FACT practitioners who specifically teach meditation.
Deep relaxation (also called “autogenic relaxation”) uses a number of techniques to teach your body to relax and let go of stress. The more you practice this form of relaxation the quicker your body can trigger a relaxation response to alleviate stress and physical tension.
Research into the use of Hypnosis shows that self-hypnosis can help reduce pain and help people cope with the stress of long-term illness. See a list of FACT practitioners who specialise in hypnotherapy.
- Guided imagery
The practice of imagining sensations or visualising an image of the mind to bring about a physical response (such as stress reduction) is central to many mind-body practices.
This ayurvedic practice combines breathing techniques, body positions and meditation to balance the mind, body and spirit. See a list of FACT practitioners who specialise in yoga.
Electronic devices help people learn to control certain body functions, such as breathing and heart-rate, to promote relaxation and improve health. See a list of FACT practitioners who specialise in biofeedback.
- Tai chi
This practice, which originated in China as a martial art, is a type of moving meditation that helps move chi (vital energy) throughout the body. See a list of FACT practitioners who specialise in tai chi.
Traditionally a component of Chinese medicine, qigong combines movement, meditatation and controlled breathing to improve the flow of chi (vital energy) and the circulation of blood. See a list of FACT practitioners who specialise in qigong.
An energy healing practice that originated in Japan, reiki encourages the body’s own healing response. After a reiki treatment, people often feel very relaxed. See a list of FACT practitioners who specialise in reiki.
- Massage therapy
See a list of FACT practitioners who specialise in massage therapy.
- Cognitive-behavioural therapies, group support, autogenic training, and spirituality have also been shown to be beneficial in controlling stress.
Have you ever used a CAM therapy to counteract the stress in your life? Tell us about your experience! If you are a practitioner, would you share some recommendations or advice with your fellow members? Remember, you can get more information on these and other CAM modalities (or add to the information that already exists) in our [link removed] Community section.