Your heart is racing and you find it impossible to concentrate, work and sleep. Your waking hours are full of dread and anguish about your job, money, your family and your ability to provide for them. You feel stressed all the time and each day is a struggle.
World renowned naturopath, author and broadcaster Jan de Vries - who gave a public lecture entitled “Stress, Relaxation and Healing” in Galway recently - says everyone is talking about stress these days.
Although discussed more than ever before stress related problems have been with us since time began, he says.
“Everything is relative, after all. The caveman who couldn’t track down his dinner probably suffered from stress as much as the young housewife rushing around the supermarket searching for ingredients for a special meal.”
A certain amount of stress is beneficial in some circumstances, he says. This healthy tension motivates us and helps us face challenges. However, excessive or prolonged stress can have a detrimental effect on our health and quality of life.
“Stress is common to everyone but some of us can cope better than others when things start to get out of hand. Everyone, however, is capable of learning how to control stress and channel it into positive energy,” he explains.
“Many psychologists and stress groups try to gauge a person’s ‘stress count’ by using scores from one to a 100 for a variety of situations likely to induce stress. The highest scores were given for the death of someone close, divorce, unemployment, moving house, coping with illness, domestic problems and, believe it or not, success in life. It is often the most successful people in terms of financial reward and achievement at work who become so stressed that illness forces them to pull in their reins.”
He says dissatisfaction with life is quite common. “If we have a son we want a daughter, if we have a good income, we want a bigger income, if we have satisfactory health we want even better health. It is a tiny minority who are content with what they have got. Most of us want more, more, more...”
He believes many people who are under a lot of stress have stretched themselves to the limit. Many are very ill when they call a halt to their fast paced lifestyles. He urges people to learn to accept life and take it a day at a time for their health’s sake.
Prone to stress
People who are bored and frustrated are just as prone to stress as those with little free time.
“In Britain unemployment is rife. People either accept or don’t accept unemployment. Those who do accept it try to make the best of their situation and channel any negative emotions into new activities. The result of this attitude is very often a better job than the one previously held. The other person mopes around the house all day feeling tensed up, nervous, depressed. Excessive stress has him in such a strong grip that he can do nothing except complain about his sad situation.”
Jan de Vries says he comes across the latter type of people most in his work because they can be susceptible to high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, migraines, eczema, asthma, mental disorders and some researchers believe, cancer, he says.
“Stress is high on the suspect list also for inducing young people to adopt bad habits like smoking, drinking and overeating which in turn bring about more disease.”
People can learn to deal with stress, he says. “It is quite amazing what a positive attitude can do. All too often we fail to acknowledge that our mind operates in various dimensions. It influences our mental state which then affects our thinking and consequently this controls our ability.
“If we influence our minds positively our ability to cope with stress will be much greater. We will get a desirable result in whatever we are doing. If we accept any situation we are placed in, we can escape from many problems. We are then in a position to make the best of the situation and exert favourable influences over it, in other words, to use it to our advantage. There is always light at the end of the tunnel and if we think positively our immune system is triggered and the life force becomes so strong that the body can throw off stress.”
Many problems are born of stress, including fears and anxiety. Mr de Vries says many people spend more than half of their lives feeling anxious.
“Anxiety, like tensions or phobias, is the result of excessive stress. An anxious person, in other words, has an uneasy mind and when this uneasiness is recognised and understood it can quite easily be controlled. It is simple to say ‘Why worry?’ to an anxious person. Too often people are told ‘Just forget your worries’. This attitude, however, is not the answer.”
He says anxiety is easily recognised. “Perhaps we are more active than usual and unable to settle for long and maybe the extra energy we are expending is making us feel extremely tired. One thing, is sure, anxiety is often misunderstood. Frequently people tell me they are depressed or suffering from a specific health problem and usually it does not take me long to discover that they are, in fact, experiencing anxiety because it is quite common for anxiety to manifest itself in physical symptoms.”
He advises people to pay attention to the signals from their body. These can indicate the presence of anxiety - lightheadedness, headaches, backache, dry mouth, butterflies in the tummy, sweating hands, weak legs and feeling faint.
He recommends the following relaxation method. “Sit down on an easy chair with your head resting and your feet flat on the floor. Breathe calmly and listen to your breath going in and out. Now take a very deep breath and, when expiring, say to yourself ‘relax’. Do this three times. Then say to yourself over and over again, “I can do it’ thinking of whatever your problem may be, picturing yourself going to the shops or boarding an aeroplane. You must convince yourself that you can do it. When you have finished creating this mental picture pat yourself on the back for having done so well. Breathe deeply three times and open your eyes.”
He advises doing this exercise three times a day - when you wake up, at lunchtime and before sleeping at night.
“Practice it in a quiet room and try never to skip an exercise. What you are doing is putting a new programme into the computer. Be patient, it may take up to six months before it starts working.”