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Stress: coping with stress

What are the effects of stress?

Abnormal stress can have many troublesome physical and emotional effects on us, but they vary from person to person. Common problems are tiredness, fatigue, anxiety, sleep disturbance, poor concentration, restlessness and irritability. Stress-related illnesses include depression, drug abuse (including problem drinking), irritable digestive system, peptic ulcers, headache, mouth ulcers, impotence, irritable bladder, dermatitis, heart disease, breast pain and cancer.

What are important causes?

We are constantly under some form of stress in our lives and generally cope very well. The most stressful circumstances leading to ill health have been shown to be death of a spouse or close family member, migration, divorce and marital separation, imprisonment, personal injury or illness, marriage, retirement, sex difficulties, pregnancy, guilt over a wrongdoing and similar traumas. However, many of us feel unduly stressed over modern living and we need help.

What can you do to cope?

• Talk it over with someone.

• Look for solutions: stop escaping.

• Practise relaxation.

• Develop healthy hobbies.

• Practise a sensible, healthy diet.

• Exercise.

• Avoid smoking and other drugs and limit alcohol.

Talking it over

‘Getting it off your chest’ is more important than you realise. Talk to someone you admire and trust. Going to a minister of religion or your doctor can be powerful, especially if you can feel forgiven and if any guilt is relieved. The traditional Christian sacrament of confession or reconciliation is noted to be very powerful in helping stressed guilty people


Practising relaxation is vital for the uptight person. Meditation is excellent and classes are available, but you can practise yourself. Make a commitment to yourself to spend some time every day practising relaxation. About 20 minutes twice a day is ideal, but you might want to start with only 10 minutes.

• Sit in a quiet place with your eyes closed, but remain alert and awake if you can. Focus your mind on the different muscle groups in your body, starting at the forehead and slowly going down to the toes. Relax the muscles as much as you can.

• Pay attention to your breathing: listen to the sound of your breath for the next few minutes. Breathe in and out slowly and deeply.

• Next, begin to repeat the word ‘relax’ silently in your mind at your own pace. When other thoughts distract, calmly return to the word ‘relax’.

• Just ‘let go’: this is a quiet time for yourself, in which the stresses in body and mind are balanced or reduced.

Try to practise when your stomach is empty: before breakfast and before the evening meal are ideal times.

During the day, check yourself frequently for tension: take a few long, deep breaths and breathe away the tension.

Practise positive thinking. If you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts about your illness, silently say over and over to yourself: ‘Every day, in every way, my health is getting better and better.’

Note: Prayer is an excellent form of meditation and relaxation.

Health through nutrition

A sensible approach to your diet can make you feel marvellous.

Increase the amount of complex carbohydrates and fibre (vegetables, fruit, whole-wheat products, brown rice, fish, cereals, etc.) in your diet. Drink plenty of water.

Decrease salt, total fats (butter, cream, meat fats, cheese, peanut butter, etc.), refined carbohydrates (sugars, sweets, cordials, icecream, cakes, etc.) and caffeine (coffee, tea and cola drinks).

Reading The Pritikin Promise will provide many healthy ideas and recipes.


Devise a program suitable for you. Walking for 20 minutes each day or every second day is an excellent start. A good callisthenic or yoga program is ideal.