Article by : Donald Marmara, somatic psychotherapist
Research shows that about 75% of all visits to doctors are related to stress, and that when the underlying causes of stress are not adequately treated, serious conditions such as heart disease, respiratory illnesses, stroke, and even ulcers of the digestive tract can develop.
So how do you ensure that you control your stress levels so that you remain relaxed, centred and rational in all situations and reduce your likelihood of developing the many serious health conditions associated with high stress levels?
Before we show you how to achieve this we should first examine what “stress” is. When we talk about stress, we usually mean the symptoms of stress, from the earlier signs such as fatigue, irritability, backaches and headaches to the more serious consequences such as depression, uncontrollable rage, heart attacks and strokes.
Stress is the result of an imbalance. When a system is out of balance, signals are sent to the control centre, which is the nervous system in the case of humans. These signals are essential for our survival – without them we would soon die of hunger, thirst, exhaustion or some other form of excess or deprivation.
When we receive a signal that corrective action is needed, eg we are tired and we need to rest – if we respond appropriately we will maintain optimal health and effectiveness. This is the function of stress symptoms, to give us information that will enable us to take appropriate action.
IF WE IGNORE THE EARLY WARNING SIGNALS OF STRESS SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES CAN RESULT.
Medical researchers have found that psychological stress weakens the immune system and hence the body’s ability to maintain good health. People under stress are also twice as likely to contract colds and flu.
It is neither stress nor the symptoms of stress that are the cause of so many problems. On the contrary, it is only when we do not respond appropriately to these signals that serious problems arise.
The symptoms of stress are like the instrument panel in an aircraft or motor car.
Blaming stress for our problems is like blaming the fuel gauge for telling us that we’re running out of fuel, and ignoring the symptoms of stress or just taking pills to suppress them is like cutting the wires to the fuel gauge and pretending that we have enough fuel.
If it is obvious that the way forward is to listen to the warning signs and take corrective action – why do so many people continue to behave irrationally and suffer the consequences?
Surely we should expect to get healthier and happier as we become more technologically advanced?
Unfortunately this is not the case. It appears that an understanding of how human beings function lags well behind our knowledge of computers and robotic systems.
Because of various factors in our culture and upbringing, including the unfortunate and erroneous belief that seeking help is a sign of weakness rather than strength, many of us have lost the sensitivity we need in order to understand and respond adequately to imbalances in our system.
When something in your body doesn’t feel right, something you’re doing needs to change.
Are you able to respond by making the changes that your body is asking you to make, or do you take action to cover up the symptoms( eg alcohol, smoking, overeating, drugs, workaholic etc) ? Are you able to respond appropriately or have you lost the ability to do so?
There are ways in which we can help ourselves become healthier and more responsive to our bodily signals, and some ways of doing this are listed below.
Here are some suggestions for dealing with stress:
Learn to recognise signs of stress early – before it causes you serious damage, by:
· Having regular medical and dental checkups
· Taking a few minutes each day to listen to your body
· Completing any unfinished business from the past that is taking up energy – whether you’re aware of it or not. (You may require professional help to do this successfully)
Adopt practical strategies for managing and overcoming stress
· Regular exercise helps you release stress, keep physically fit and healthy.
· Balanced diet – eat slowly and discover the diet best suited to your particular needs.
· Massage – regular massage helps your body eliminate toxins, improves circulation and muscle tone – all these are important for physical and mental health.
· Meditation – calms you down and helps increase your self-awareness.
· Observe the circumstances under which you feel stressed, do your best to avoid them where possible.
· Observe the circumstances under which you feel relaxed – do your best to put yourself as often as possible in those situations.
· Live your life in alignment with your values and beliefs – failure to do this causes stress
· It is essential that you find out what works for you, as individuals vary and what one person finds stressful may be relaxing and beneficial for another.
Also as your needs/circumstances vary, so the steps you need to take to stay healthy need to vary accordingly. You may find it worthwhile to enlist professional help to do this successfully.
COPING vs CHANGE
Whilst the above strategies will help you cope with stress, you will need to take this a step further if you want to create a significant and lasting improvement in your overall health, effectiveness and wellbeing.
Whilst we can certainly help ourselves deal with stress, most of us will find that we can do this much more effectively, go a lot further, and save ourselves unnecessary hardship with the guidance of an experienced practitioner, particularly one who understands the connection between mind, body and emotions, and who has personally undergone the journey of therapy and change.
Note that it is a sign of strength not of weakness to seek professional help, and that the people who are most successful set up support systems and are willing to reach out for help .
In choosing someone to guide you through unfamiliar territory, you will naturally want someone who has traversed the territory themselves.
Here’s an example of how an experienced therapist can help you make significant and lasting life changes:
When Sam (not his real name) moved to Sydney from Western Australia he found himself under considerable stress. He had a dead-end job, and his move had also placed strains on his family and relationships. Establishing social networks was proving difficult. “All in all it was a very isolating and lonely experience, and this manifested in me in a case of serious ill-health” he says.
“These circumstances impacted adversely on every aspect of my life.
“Then I met Donald Marmara. It was obvious to him that I was not my normal self and when he suggested that we spend an hour together, I was not sure what he could do.
“However I am pleased to say that his friendly manner, logical and systematic approach to my needs, particularly at a sensitive time; his ability to assist me in focusing, then prioritising critical and depleted energies into the channels that best reflected my needs at the time. Importantly, his continued efforts over the following months were and are greatly appreciated.
“There are times in life when individuals do require assistance, and my advice to others is do not wait until you have depleted your reserves.”
Sam’s health improved significantly, he left his dead-end job and now runs his own very successful business. He has a lot more free time, and enjoys a much happier and healthier life in Sydney.
Donald has 35 years international experience, has presented at seminars organised by the British Holistic Medical Association and the Institute for Cultural Affairs in London,at the Australian Counselling Association’s National Conferences in Brisbane and Melbourne, and the International Ecopolitics Conference at Macquarie University in Sydney.
Donald now lives and works in Sydney and can be contacted on 02 9413 9794