This week, I was interested to read that scientists responsible for research conducted in Sweden, have said that they believe that "stress management programmes can help decrease the risk of recurrent heart attacks and other cardiovascular illnesses".
As we know, the word ‘stress' is often used incorrectly and out of context in order to describe our reaction to everyday problems. In fact, stress is actually the physical and mental response we experience to prolonged pressure that develops over a period of time.
Most of us have the coping skills that enable us to manage excessive pressure for short periods. We may feel stressed-out temporarily, but like a bungee jumper, we can and do bounce back. And this is what we all need to do as to manage the problems of our everyday lives.
A healthy person can respond to pressure and enjoy the stimulus. However a person who has been under intense pressure over a long period is unlikely to have sufficient coping reserves to manage cumulative stress.
The first signs that they are not coping will inevitably show up in their work performance, in their behaviour and, ultimately, also in their appearance and persona. It is rather like a car trying to run on an empty tank.
Poor communication, unreliable time-keeping, unnecessary outbursts of anger, sleep problems, over or under- eating, high-blood pressure, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem are all signs that excessive stress may be damaging your health and, in particular, your heart.
When the body finally gives up trying to respond to prolonged pressure, the individual concerned can suffer ‘stress burnout' which manifests as an almost complete collapse in confidence and an inability to take even minor decisions. It has been described as a ‘black hole' and it can take years, if ever, for such an affected individual to return to a life of normality.
Most of us do not appreciate the dramatic effect that prolonged pressure can have on our life and the lives of our families. When we no longer have the ability or motivation to work, then it can be catastrophic for personal relationships.
That is why stress must not be left unchecked or unmanaged over a long period. So what can you do about it?
There is no doubt in my mind that stress management awareness training can make us much more aware of the signs and symptoms of stress and provides basic coping strategies.
However, when stress escalates out of control, then the individual affected will need professional counselling and/or coaching support to help them take back control of their lives.
In the UK, it is often a company's HR department that makes contact with me to provide stress counselling for one of their employees, but in the Gulf region, this type of intervention has yet to become part of the corporate culture.
Of course, stress gives us timely warnings but we often just ignore the signs. Instead, we may become dependent on alcohol or drugs in an attempt to blot out negative feelings and, because adrenaline can run high when stressed, we may take unnecessary or unusual risks both at work and at home.
We may experience migraine type headaches and problems with our digestive system, and mood swings and temper outbursts can indicate the damaging effects upon our health and outlook.
Over the years, I have counselled many managers in my consultancy room, suffering from mental exhaustion. Did they see it coming? Of course they did, but they ignored the signs because they thought they could beat the system but of course, they couldn't! Such symptoms are a hard wake-up call of which we must take note, and implement remedial action.
Stress: Key points
- If you start to feel out of control, seek help immediately.
- Ensure you maintain a proper work / life balance
- Take plenty of exercise as it will reduce the effects of stress.
- Eat a healthy diet and do not skip meals.
- The author is a BBC guest-broadcaster and motivational speaker. She is CEO of an international stress management and employee well-being consultancy based in London. Contact the consultancy for proven stress strategies: www.carolespiersgroup.co.uk