Brookside Center for Counseling and Hypnotherapy


The following article is reprinted with the permission of the author. It is interesting how our counterparts in Europe share our concerns about stress.

Use Stress In A Positive Way

by Ariel Haemmerlé

Professional requirements and the stress they generate have, in past years, considerably increased. But some simple recipes can improve life quality in a decisive way.

What is stress? If we consider it as a stimulation, it can represent a positive, invigorating element which generates life, without which life gets dull: in short, a blessing. But generally, the term 'stress' is understood as tension, an awareness of something negative that renders life bitter and leads to illness. Negative stress has become a major problem in the professional world. A lot has been written about stress, yet it is often analyzed without indicating sufficient practical solutions.
Stress appears each time something changes, when we have to adapt to a new situation. If we manage to react in a positive way, we can use this energy. Stress then becomes a chance, an opportunity for growth. A negative reaction, however, turns this energy against us and can become fatal. Stress is therefore not an external event which happens to us, but rather represents our way of reacting to that event. We create stress ourselves! But life seethes and bubbles around us. To combat it is illusory; to work against it makes things even more difficult. It is also dangerous to ignore the stress it creates, to elude it or act as if it was not there. But it is possible to negotiate with the negatively or positively perceived stimulations and a way to handle them so as to avoid the stress that they create. We therefore ought to take care of stress before stress takes care of us. Surprisingly, a few simple recipes are often enough to avoid the worst effects of stress and to heal them, be they in our professional or private lives or for a General Manager, a secretary or a factory worker.

The most important factor in overcoming stress is to be in excellent physical condition. This is part of a healthy lifestyle. Many know it already and practice sports or some other form of physical activity. Once approval is obtained from your medical doctor, one should exercise at least twice a week strenuously for 20 minutes so that the heart beats strongly and one perspires abundantly. This eliminates toxins, such as excess adrenaline, and releases muscular tensions. Remember, our ancestors have been running and strenuously working for centuries. The human body has been shaped by this activity. If we lack movement, we run inescapably into problems. As long as we are in good condition, stress has less of a hold on us.

Still, we often forget that our mental condition is also vital. By maintaining alertness and other faculties of attention, curiosity, a desire to learn new things, self-cultivation through good reading, theater, film, music and by forming social contacts, in short by using everything that is connected to culture in general, the "brain muscles" remain in good shape also and put us in the state of being able to use stress positively. The one who is psychologically and physically strong is always a nose ahead of the others. On the other hand, watching TV for too long with the repeated crying and violence found in certain films produces a psychic fatigue which renders one more vulnerable to stress.

The second condition necessary to manage stress well is our general attitude in conflicts and in annoying situations. In 80% of the situations we find ourselves in we have the power to decide ourselves how we want to react. We can tense up physically and psychically or relax and breathe deeply. If we keep our calm, we have a much bigger chance of producing a positive and constructive response. By shouting, one rarely finds a good solution anyhow. Only when calm has been restored can a positive, constructive solution to problems can be found. So why not remain calm from the beginning and take care of one's health ?

The third point consists in resting before one is exhausted. The body functions according to a rhythm called "ultradian." It allows peak   performance only during some 90 to 120 minutes. After this, the body needs rest. The mountain dwellers know this very well and take regular breaks before they find themselves unable to go ahead any more. A short break of some 2 to 5 minutes each hour is enough. While  at the work place, when the need arises, one should "drop out" for a moment, breathe deeply and calmly and let their thoughts drift. It is also advisable to perform some simple physical exercises or contemplate nature. In short, intentionally take a break, a kind of "micro-holiday." This allows the body to regenerate until it is ready again for performance. Medical research has produced evidence that suggests that a person who regularly arranges for such mini-breaks is less tired and their performance can increase up to 30%. The one who works without interruption is therefore performing less optimally and is more rapidly exhausted than the one who regularly takes a break.

The fourth point concerns breathing and relaxation. It is well known that stress and excitement upset breathing and muscle tone. To know how to breathe properly is as such of vital importance. The chest is often not flexible enough to accommodate all the air one ought to inhale. When the diaphragm descends during inhalation, the belly must inflate totally. (Don't worry, you won't develop a big belly because of this, to the contrary, the abdominal muscles will be reinforced.) Breathing must be anchored deeply in the lower part of the abdomen. All mammals and  new born children breathe like this and this is how we should breathe constantly. If you don't know how to do it, the technique can be easily learned.

The simple fact is that just breathing properly already relaxes the muscles, but insufficiently. To remain relaxed all day - especially during work - one has to learn an adequate technique and train it. The general attitude many people have towards relaxation is frequently a little naïve. Many think it is enough to sit back in an armchair in front of the TV or with a good book at hand. But in these situations there is often not much relaxation happening. It is only when the muscle tonus is lowered towards zero that the disorder created by stress is dissolved and this is only possible with precise relaxation techniques which also offer a positive mental impact. The psychic "wrinkles" imprinted by stress are smoothed, awareness increases, and one gets more awareness of oneself and the world outside. Communication then becomes easier, we ourselves experience less stress and withstand life's inevitable stress more easily.

There are many excellent relaxation and meditation techniques. Even better is the technique of "dynamic relaxation." Dynamic relaxation offers us a way to be relaxed while sitting, standing and even while moving. Furthermore, postural defects are corrected. The aim is not to go to sleep but, on the contrary, to become more aware and more dynamic so as to be able to remain physically and mentally relaxed amidst a hectic life. The environment and one's true person are in this way perceived with more awareness and the energy supplied by stress can be used positively. To the satisfaction of both employers and employees, numerous companies have introduced such techniques in their Corporate Wellness programs.

Among the multitude of dynamic exercises, two for beginners can immediately be incorporated into daily life. First, just spread your legs a little, slightly bend your knees and let yourself hang forward for some 20 seconds while breathing calmly. In this position, the neck and the shoulders are relaxed and the brain is irrigated. This relaxes one and makes one more receptive.

The second exercise is a "dynamised stretching." Hands are joined in the neck or stretched towards the sky. Breathe out, then in through the nose, hold the breath for a moment while stretching and finally breathe out and let go. Do this three times in a row. Through this exercise, the muscles of the whole body are relaxed and circulation in the brain is amplified. After this, you are again in excellent condition. Numerous other physical and mental exercises can be learned in evening courses.

Another important point is one's general state of mind regarding work including one's superiors, colleagues and subordinates. A negative attitude will make any situation worse and perpetuate the tendency to do think negatively. The smallest stress then is transformed into an enormous load and we ourselves produce supplementary stress. If we take as fundamental a positive attitude, working with pleasure and enthusiasm, we get less tired, stress tolerance increases, many stress sources are brushed aside and we don't ourselves add additional stress to an already stressful situation. Most people have to work for a living. Why then not make something positive out of it? For pure egotism we should work with joy!

Another factor determining our capacity to react well to stressors is the way one start one's day. To begin well, one has to have slept enough. One should rise early and dress calmly, choose to be in a good mood and always eat and drink something. The body needs fuel. After sleep, we need to put ourselves in phase with the body and mind. This is easily done with one or two breathing or gymnastic exercises and some meditation, such as simply contemplating nature or a nice picture. Altogether, this takes only a few minutes, but it is worth its weight in gold. Any time taken in the morning to start the day in good condition is largely reimbursed during the day.

The last point, but certainly not the least important, is the false idea that doing nothing liberates one from stress. The "dolce far niente" approach is, of course, excellent, but only if it doesn't last too long. For a good and happy life, stimulation is necessary. Without it, the human being perishes. But on the other hand, too much stimulation is also harmful. During a short period one can withstand much, but in the long run only a healthy balance can guarantee good health. To overstimulate oneself is a shortsighted strategy. Highly qualified people who represent an inestimable capital for a company can be lost this way. This is not only valid for one's professional life, but also for their private life. Employers and employees must keep this in mind and, in the interest of all, find long term solutions. Wrong politics in this field cost the economy some 10% of the gross social product... and these figures don't take into account all the human suffering hidden behind these figures.

To fight against stress is an illusion: the greater the resistance, the more intense the pressure we put on ourselves. Analyzing stress sources, eliminating them partly and reducing excess stress in the long run will certainly help. But the requirements of the actual world can only partly be reduced. In situations of urgency, medical help and vitamins can contribute, but do not solve the problem at its root. Running away from stress or abandoning everything often turns out to change a one-eyed donkey for a blind one. The unique authentic solution is to use stress positively, to learn to rise above the daily agitation, to treat it with a smile and even, if possible, to play with it. The points mentioned here can contribute. Just do it! It only requires a little training.


Written on request of "Corporate Wellness" SWICA Health organization (insurance).  © SWICA 1998 This article is especially suited for publication in a company news bulletin. Ask for a free authorization for publication and a quality copy on paper or diskette at tel +41 +1 342 08 63 / fax +41 +22 342 08 64.


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