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Survival tips for the stressed-out

LET LOOSE OR LOSE IT

Call them what you want – controlfreaks, stressaholics, drama queens, Type A’s – some people just take life a little too seriously. Whether you view something as stressful or not is shaped by a personalised combination of biological, psychological and social factors, and the super-stressed have exceptionally well-tuned responses to potential danger. Telling an uptight individual to take it easy isn’t going to help – an entrenched tendency to view every internal and external change as a threat to survival is hard to break.

THE PERSONALITY ALPHABET

Certain personality traits can make people more prone to freak-outs. One theory categorises different dispositions into an alphabet system. Initially limited to Type A and Type B, it was later found that two groups couldn’t adequately cover the full spectrum of personality types, so Type C and D were added. However, since people may find they display specific characteristics from all four groups, perhaps an entire alphabet of types is needed for more accurate classification.

Though controversial, what made this area of study significant was the assumption that different types of personalities may increase the risk of disease. Though your high-octane overachieving personality or tendency to feel gloomy and anxious may make you more vulnerable to stress, it doesn’t have to make you sick. Disease will only have a chance if you allow yourself to be overwhelmed by challenging situations. No matter how pressurised your life, if you feel in control of it, you can prevent the emotional and physical turmoil that triggers health trouble.

QUIT STRESSING

Too much stress is associated with undesirable health issues, so why do we cling on to it? For some, it’s a misguided problem-solving tactic. They believe worrying is a constructive technique for preventing problems, preparing for the worst, and finding solutions. But overstressing serves no purpose. The only way to successfully solve problems involves action: evaluate a situation, brainstorm concrete steps for dealing with it, and then carry out your plan. Worrying only delays the process.

Before you can tackle problem-solving, you may first need to conquer the feelings of helplessness that stress prompts. Perhaps scheduling time for bouts of obsessing and trying to only worry during those sessions will help you to feel more in control of stress. You could choose a set time and place and then dedicate half an hour a day to worrying. Every time something makes you anxious during the day, make a mental note that you’ll address it later. That way, you don’t allow worries to intrude on your every waking moment.

MASTER RESILIENCE

Practise these exercises and you should notice your tolerance to stress increasing:

  • Mindfulness Achieve a meditative state of alert, focused relaxation by sitting quietly and paying attention to thoughts without judgment. Concentrate on your natural breathing and be peacefully aware of every part of your body. Accept the presence of emotions and let them go and embrace every idea and sensation. At first you may struggle to calm your frazzled mind, but stick it out. Start with 20-minute sessions and work your way to 45 minutes of tranquillity. The more you meditate, the more self-aware and calm you’ll become
  • Active meditation You don’t have to be sitting still to experience a serene mind. Slow your day-to-day activities down and do one thing at a time, giving it your full attention and involving all your senses. Up the meditative factor by performing tai chi and yoga routines
  • Relaxation training Starting with your fists and working your way around your entire body, clench every muscle set as tightly as possible for 10 seconds and then release it. Once every muscle set has received individual attention, tighten and relax every muscle in your entire body at once. Focus on the contrast of feelings during tensing and relaxing. Eventually you’ll learn how to physically relax on demand without tensing up first, creating a feeling of calm anywhere, anytime.

References available on request

TYPE TRAITS STRESS THRESHOLD HEALTH THREATS
A Competitive, irritable, hostile Feel and react to stress intensely Raised risk of coronary heart disease and high blood pressure
B Laid-back, docile The highest stress threshold of all the personality types Not linked to any serious health threats
C Repressed – appear calm, while holding in emotions Have a strong physical response to stress, but don’t report feeling under pressure Links to an increased risk of cancer haven’t been proven
D Emotionally distressed (anger, depression and anxiety), socially isolated Very low tolerance for stress and limited social outlet to relieve it Higher risk of coronary heart disease

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