Stress test: How stressed are you?
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What is stress?
According to Stefanie Lehmann, a researcher in the field, stress results from an imbalance between the demands placed on people and their ability to cope with them. In other words, stress is subjective because everyone has a different perception of their capabilities.
Stress per se is not negative. Our bodies and minds have always relied on stress in order to ensure our survival. Stress enabled our ancestors to recognise danger and respond to it more effectively.
There are two types of stress: distress and eustress. Distress refers to negative stress, and eustress is its positive counterpart. The size of the gap between them is determined by how we perceive the situation subjectively. For example, an impending important event, such as a competition, may cause you to feel "internal stress", which is referred to as "eustress". You feel tension, but at the same time you know you can meet the challenge. On the other hand, if you think that the situation is too much for you, it means you're facing distress, in which you feel overwhelmed, helpless and unable to cope. If you experience distress over long periods, it can damage your mental health.
How does the body react to stress?
Stress is a physical response to a mental state. The sensory organs send information about stressors (stress factors) to the cerebrum and limbic system. This information is then passed on to other important organs via neurotransmitters. When we are stressed, the body releases energy in a split second to prepare for fight or flight. The body always associates stress with fight or flight. This rapid process happens completely unconsciously and has been deeply rooted within us for ages.
In this state of tension, the body releases stress hormones, such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol, to help us respond to whatever we are facing. Our system sends blood to the muscles, increases the oxygen supply and shuts down unnecessary bodily functions in preparation for this moment. The immune system also goes on high alert, which temporarily boosts our defences. Our concentration increases, but is focused entirely on the immediate stress situation, causing a general reduction in rational thinking and judgement. When we face a stressful situation, our heart and breathing rates also increase.
Once the stress is over, the body needs to recover. Adrenaline and noradrenaline production is reduced. The muscles relax, the heart rate drops, breathing slows down, and blood pressure falls. Relaxation after stress is particularly important as the body goes about replenishing the energy it has just expended.
The consequences of stress
Stress can be triggered by a wide range of factors, which are referred to as "stressors". They can be physical (e.g. a lack of sleep, poor diet, illness or injury). They can also come in the form of external conditions (e.g. noise or heat). And mental factors – such as separation, performance pressure or a lack of time, for example – can also be stressors.
Eight simple tips for reducing stress in everyday lifeThose wanting to avoid or reduce stress need to take a look at themselves first. Stress prevention has a lot to do with self-discipline. In general, we can say that stressful phases need to be followed by some downtime or a recovery phase. One stress phase should never follow another. Instead, each stress phase should be followed by a period of relaxation. A healthy diet, enough sleep and sufficient exercise will also help to offset the negative effects of stress.
1. "Stress eating": People who are under a lot of stress tend to snack between meals, often in the form of fast food, which is bad for us and contains lots of fat. Especially when you're under stress, you need to make sure your body gets enough minerals, vitamins and trace elements. A healthy balanced diet calms the nerves and gives the body what it needs. Nuts are very good at helping you deal with stress because they contain a lot of magnesium and B vitamins, which are important for the nerves and mental functions. Walnuts and pistachios are especially rich in these vitamins. A banana between meals can also do a lot for your mood because it contains lots of tryptophan, which the body turns into serotonin. Bananas also contain magnesium, potassium and vitamin B6, all of which are known to reduce stress. So, instead of reaching for the chocolate, you should try bananas or nuts when you feel stressed.
2. Exercise as stress prevention: Because of its positive effects on the entire body, there is no better medicine than exercise, according to Paul Haber, an Austrian sports physician. It should therefore have an important place in your stress management plan. We recommend working out two or three times a week so that stress hormones don't stand a chance. Physical activity sends more oxygen to the cells and stimulates the metabolism. You also produce more "happiness hormones" (e.g. endorphins and serotonin) and fewer stress hormones. We recommend endurance sports such as running, cycling or swimming rather than those which focus on performance. These can actually become yet another source of stress. And above all, make sure you choose a type of exercise that you enjoy.
3. Mindfulness training to reduce stress: Mindfulness has a place in everyday life and doesn't take much time. Mindfulness aims to get us to be in the moment mentally and physically and to focus our thoughts in the best possible way. The idea is to become fully aware of the present moment and not to be driven by external or internal stimuli. This gives us greater control over our actions, allows us to respond appropriately to stimuli and stresses, and makes us more resilient. Mindfulness also has a positive effect on our mental and somatic health.
4. Take a deep breath: Your work backlog is growing and the dishes at home also need washing. This situation is likely to result in physical stress. But you can usually counteract it by consciously taking two or three deep breaths. Or you can do a reality check and send yourself positive messages (e.g. "Right now this seems like a lot, but in the past I've always managed these situations, and by the way, the world won't end if I leave the dishes until tomorrow.") Alternate nostril breathing is another technique that you can use to combat stress and boost concentration. Here's how it's done. First, place your left hand on your stomach. Take your right hand and place the tips of the index and middle fingers on your palm. Move the thumb up to your right nostril while placing your ring finger beside the left nostril. Inhale deeply through both nostrils and then exhale through the mouth. Now gently press the right nostril closed with your thumb and inhale through the left nostril. Then press the left nostril closed with the ring finger and exhale and inhale through the right nostril. Now press the right nostril closed and exhale and inhale through the left nostril. Repeat ten times. End the exercise by exhaling through the left nostril.
5. Go offline: Your phone is buzzing, your smartwatch is flashing, and your inbox is telling you to check for new messages. One of our modern-day stressors is digital media and the constant accessibility that comes with it. The solution to this problem is simple: digital detox! So, switch off your phone over the weekend and read private emails only once a day.
6. Organisation is half the battle: To-do lists are easy to manage and bring enormous benefits. And ticking off an item you've just finished is always satisfying. The shorter the list, the calmer you're likely to feel. Ideally you should prioritise your tasks and sort them by completion date. Don't start on a new task until you've finished the previous one.
7. Reduce stress with relaxation: Taking a short break from everyday life works wonders. The mind and body need to be calm before you can reduce stress. Doing some yoga or meditation in the morning or before falling asleep is always a good way to relax and will have a positive effect on your sleep. Many studies have also shown the benefits of massage. The brain releases endorphins during massage, and skin contact positively affects our mental state and how we perceive our body.
8. Enough sleep for regeneration: Sleeping is an easy way to cancel stress. Just like a healthy diet and sufficient exercise, getting enough sleep is an important factor when it comes to combating stress. The body gets the rest it needs, and you will feel calmer. We all need sleep if we want to deliver peak performance. While we sleep, our cortisol level drops. There is no hard and fast rule on how much sleep we need; it varies from person to person. In general, however, we should certainly get more sleep during particularly stressful phases as one way of allowing the body to regenerate properly.
Psychological/psychiatric counselling service
Are you plagued by worries and fears or are you aware of other psychological symptoms? A challenging everyday situation or other uncertainties can cause stress. As part of the santé24 telemedicine service, SWICA offers its customers free psychiatric/psychological counselling from specialists. Contact us to arrange an appointment.
SWICA customers benefit from additional medical services with santé24. Doctors and specialists are available around the clock, free of charge, 365 days a year. Find out more:
SWICA – Because health is everything
Being active pays off. SWICA – unlike many other health insurance companies – supports your personal commitment through a wide range of activities and offers relating to health promotion and preventive healthcare. Whether you're looking for mindfulness training, massage, yoga, tai chi, fitness classes, swimming lessons, breathing exercises, personal training, nutritional advice, mindfulness training, tennis or one of the other available options, you enjoy attractive contributions of up to 1'300 francs* per year from the COMPLETA FORTE, COMPLETA PRAEVENTA and OPTIMA supplementary insurance plans (*see detailed information).
Incidentally, supplementary insurance always provides valuable additional benefits above and beyond those available under basic insurance. It can be taken out with SWICA at any time, regardless of which insurer currently provides your basic insurance.
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