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Coping skills for stressed out South Africans

Posted  May 27, 2019

It’s no secret that South Africans are stressed! Try these practical methods of de-stressing.

South Africans are stressed out. Not only because of political and economic uncertainty, crime and corruption, financial pressures and high levels of unemployment, but day-to-day stressors like load shedding, single parenting and traffic congestion.

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In a survey by the global market research and consulting firm Ipsos, titled ‘What worries the world’, conducted in 2018, results show that aside from these stressors, South Africans are also saddled with worry about education, healthcare, taxes, inflation, and moral decline.

Stress over a long period also wreaks havoc with your mind and body, because it activates your body’s fight-or-flight response, which in turn prompts your adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. When this fight-or-flight reaction stays ‘turned on’, the long-term overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follows can disrupt almost all your body's processes, leading to anything from anxiety and depression to digestive problems, headaches, weight gain and even heart disease.

People are ‘trained’ by society (school, parents) to ‘keep anger in’

Unfortunately, a lot of us have no idea how to deal with stress, with a result that anger, and frustration levels rise, and we become physically ill. “People are ‘trained’ by society (school, parents) to ‘keep anger in’. Over time, stress can lead to physical illness, eg., endometriosis, ulcers, spastic colons, or depression, or explosive outbursts of anger when stress levels build too much,” says Johannesburg clinical psychologist, Colinda Linde. “It’s also common for people to lapse into unhealthy ways of managing stress, she says, like alcohol, drugging or taking it out on the family.”

How to deal with stressThe South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) advises that when stress does occur, it’s important to recognise and deal with it. Here are SADAG’s suggestions for ways to deal with stress.

Take care of yourself
Get enough rest and eat well. If you are irritable and tense from lack of sleep or if you are not eating correctly, you will have less ability to deal with stressful situations. If stress repeatedly keeps you from sleeping, ask your doctor for help.

Try physical activity
When you’re nervous, angry or upset, release the pressure through exercise or physical activity. Running, walking, playing tennis or gardening are just some of the activities you might try. Physical exercise will relieve that ‘uptight’ feeling, relax you, and turn frowns into smiles. Remember, your body and your mind work together.

Share your stress
It helps to talk to someone about your concerns or worries. Perhaps a friend, family member, teacher, or counselor can help you see your problem in a different light. If you feel your problem is serious, you might seek help from a professional psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional. Knowing when to ask for help may avoid more serious problems later.

Know your limits
If a problem is beyond your control and cannot be changed at the moment, don’t fight the situation. Learn to accept what is - for now - until such time when you can change it.

Make time for fun
Schedule time for both: work and recreation. Play can be just as important to your well-being as work; you need a break from your daily routine to just relax and have fun.

Get involved
One way to keep you from getting bored, sad and lonely is to go where it’s all happening. Sitting alone can make you feel frustrated. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, get involved and become a participant. Offer your services in neighborhood or volunteer organisations. Help yourself by helping other people. Get involved in the world and other people, and you will find they are attracted to you. You will be on your way to finding new friends and enjoying new activities.

Check off your tasks
Trying to take care of everything at once can seem overwhelming, and, as a result, you may not accomplish anything. Instead, make a list of what tasks you have to do, then do them one at a time. Give priority to the most important ones and do them first and check off each task as it is completed.

Avoid conflict
Do you get upset easily, particularly when things aren’t going your way? Try cooperation instead of confrontation. A little give and take on both sides will reduce the stress of being at loggerheads with someone and make you both feel more comfortable.

It’s OK to cry
A good cry can be a healthy way to bring relief to your anxiety, and it may even prevent a headache or other physical consequence. Take some deep breaths; they also release tension.

Create a quiet scene
You can’t always run away, but you can change your scene. A quiet country scene painted mentally, or canvas, can take you out of the turmoil of a stressful situation. Change the scene by reading a book or playing beautiful music to create a sense of peace or tranquility.

Avoid self-medication
Although you can use prescription or over-the-counter medications to relieve stress temporarily, they do not remove the conditions that caused the stress in the first place. Pharmaceuticals should only be taken on the advice of your doctor.

The bottom lineUltimately, controlling stress is about being practical in dealing with the sources of your stress, says Colinda Linde. “Separate what you can control, such as your reactions to a situation, from what is uncontrollable and which only wastes your time and energy,” she advises.

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