20 July 2010

Managing anxiety, stress and tension

All of us experience anxiety, stress or tension at some or other stage in our lives. If we do not cope with it immediately and deliberately it might overwhelm us.

We all experience anxiety, stress or tension at some or other stage in our lives. If we do not cope with it immediately and deliberately it might overwhelm us and immobilise us for the tasks that we have to perform.

Stress refers to an effort or demand upon physical or mental energy. Stress produces the same feelings as anxiety but it is usually linked to a specific person, situation or experience that one fears. Examples would include an examination, assignment or a superior person. Tension on the other hand refers to mental strain or excitement; a strained state or relationship. If the symptoms are experienced acutely, it is referred to as a panic attack.

  • Your definition of the problem could be different

    The solution to a problem lies in its meaning, perception and definition. If you define a problem as overwhelming, it will appear insoluble. Furthermore, if you think about a problem on your own, you will only have one point of view.

    In the example earlier, Peter's friend introduced a different perspective and by implication a (different) solution to the problem. When a person gets ill in the West, they say he must have a rest. He is visited by a few people and visits are socially controlled. In the East, when a person gets ill, his bed is placed in the living room.

    The sick person is the centre of attention and he is visited by many family members and friends. If visitors stayed away, it would be seen as uncivil and as a lack of sympathy. In this way relationships are confirmed. In the West relationships very often become severed when a person becomes ill and the sick person is "forgotten" at his/her office until he/she returns. He/she does not experience being missed by colleagues and friends.
  • Begin to communicate about the problem

    So, if you find it difficult to talk to someone about your problems or negative experiences, find a psychologist or a good friend and start to practise talking to him/her first. Maybe that will give you enough courage to talk to others as well. By sharing a problem and feeling understood, the impact of a problem is alleviated.

    There is a saying: "Nature is explained but people are understood." There is no need for you to ever explain your behaviour if you feel you have done the best you can. We only need to understand each other.
  • Take a tranquilliser for stress situations

    Very often people ask whether or not it may be simpler to take a tranquilliser to alleviate the anxiety or tension. There are times when tranquillisers may come in handy on a short term basis.

    For example when a loved one dies and you find it difficult to cope with the emotional impact of the event or if you are the bridegroom who has to make a speech at your wedding and you suffer from stage fright, tranquillisers could help you cope with a temporary tense situation. (The bridegroom might however pay for it in another way later on that evening - much to his embarrassment! Tranquillisers and sex do not really work together.)

    Feeling tense could be compared to the waves of the sea. You are not equally tense at all times, just as the intensity of the waves differ at different times. The tenseness builds up to a peak and then calms down a bit, similar to high tide when the sea is much more active. The waves come and go.

    The tranquilliser succeeds in cutting out peak emotional experiences so that you do not experience it as so overwhelming. The 'wave' of emotion can thus not develop fully under the influence of a tranquilliser and in this way you are protected for as long as you take the tranquilliser.
  • Learn to ride the wave of emotion

    But can you carry on taking the medication for ever? Would it not be better to learn how to surf, so that you can ride the waves of emotion when they come? For this reason it is important to talk to as many people as possible about your experiences, especially to experts. If you bottle feelings up, you are 'freezing' the emotional wave and the body is kept in a state of readiness, like a horse that is ready to race. The adrenalin is still pumping and the heart rate is still high to keep you in that state of readiness.

    Also many of the corresponding symptoms that were mentioned earlier, still prevail. Obviously the body cannot be kept in a state of readiness indefinitely and something must give in. Usually it is the heart which works the hardest and is the most vulnerable. So, does it pay to bottle up (and freeze) emotions? Definitely not.


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