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Stress Management

Stress Management - What it is

Stress is the "wear and tear" our bodies experience as we adjust to our continually changing environment. Whether we like it or not, stress is part and parcel of life. It can affect us both physically and emotionally and can create positive or negative feelings.

It's important to note that not all stress is harmful; in fact, we can perform better under mild stress when we know how to manage it. This is called positive stress. Positive stress helps us to concentrate, focus and it can also literally help us to survive. Our physical stress response helps us to meet challenging situations and is an automatic and essential fact of life. Positive stress helps compel us to action; it can result in a new awareness and an exciting new perspective.

Our physical reaction to stress is always the same, but with negative stress, our body stays geared up and doesn’t relax. The over-arousal distresses us and causes performance to decline. This approach to stress is illustrated in the "inverted U" graph. (Fig.1). When stress becomes chronic and ongoing, our physical and emotional health can suffer. 

chronic stress graph singapore general hospital

According to the graph, our performance peaks when there is optimal arousal but performance decreases when the arousal level is too high. What is crucial to realise is that each one of us has a different stress requirement for optimal performance. 

Stress Management - Symptoms

Stress may affect us physically, mentally, emotionally and behaviourally. The signs and symptoms include:

  • Physical: fatigue, headache, insomnia, muscle aches/stiffness (especially neck, shoulder and low back), heart palpitations, chest pains and nausea.
  • Mental: decrease in concentration and memory, indecisiveness, mind racing or going blank, confusion and loss of humour.
  • Emotional: anxiety, nervousness, depression, anger, frustration, worry, fear, irritability, impatience and short temper.
  • Behavioural: pacing, fidgeting, increased eating, smoking, drinking, crying, yelling, blaming and even throwing things or hitting.

Stress Management - How to prevent?

Stress Management - Causes and Risk Factors

The causes of stress are coined as stressors. This occurs in two forms: external and internal.

External stressors include major life events such as job loss, loss of a loved one or demands placed by the physical environment such as the excessive lighting or noise.

Internal stressors occur within us. We add internal stressors to our lives for example, if we have unrealistic expectations, negative self talks or choose a lifestyle where there is excessive caffeine and alcohol and constant lack of sleep.

Stress Management - Diagnosis

Stress Management - Treatments

How can we manage stress better? Just as there are many sources of stress, there are many ways of managing it. Here are 7 of them:

  1. Time management: Prioritize tasks by creating a list, giving precedence to urgent matters over less important ones.
  2. Relax and self-care: Unwind by partaking in hobbies you enjoy such as taking a walk or watching a movie
  3. Regular exercise: Exercise offers numerous benefits, but consistency is key. It enhances circulation, strengthens muscles, and reduces body fat, supporting physical and mental well-being. Aim for at least three sessions of aerobic exercise per week, lasting 20 to 30 minutes each.
  4. Spend time with family: Nurture your family relationships by dedicating quality time to your loved ones. Engaging in activities together fosters family unity, which serves as a vital source of emotional support during challenging times.
  5. Confide in friends: Cultivate friendships as they are essential to well-being. When facing challenges, confide in trusted friends who offer support.
  6. Find spiritual comfort: If you are religious, dedicate time to prayer and reading scriptures to strengthen your spiritual well-being.
  7. Watch what you eat: Be mindful of your consumption habits, as excessive consumption of tea, alcohol, and smoking can exacerbate feelings of anxiety. Avoid drinking these substances in the evening to promote restful sleep.

Deep Breathing Exercise to Relieve Stress

The deep breathing exercise is a simple yet effective technique in stress management. It is useful in replacing the rapid, shallow breathing caused by stress with long, deep breaths using all of your lung capacity. This simple exercise, done 1-2 minutes several times a day, may relieve many stressful feelings.

  • Take in a slow breath into your lungs, through your nose and out through your mouth.

  • You don’t have to take deeper breath than usual. Just the depth with which you normally breathe.

  • Slow down your breathing rate gradually. You can do this by breathing in and counting 1 – 2 – 3 before breathing out. You should aim to breathe at a rate of about 12 to 14 breaths in a minute.

  • Relax the muscles around your neck and your shoulders.

  • Continue these breathing control exercises for about 5 – 10 minutes or until you are no longer breathless

For more stress management tips, be sure to download a copy of our leaflet for further reading:

Stress Management (English).pdf

Stress Management - Preparing for surgery

Stress Management - Post-surgery care

Stress Management - Other Information

The information provided is not intended as medical advice. Terms of use. Information provided by SingHealth