12 May 2011: The Medical Nutritional Institute (MNI) is encouraging all South Africans to make 2011 a mentally healthy year by taking a much more proactive stance to managing stress levels.
“Stress itself doesn’t appear to be taken that seriously by people,” observes Dr Conrad Smith, the medical director of The Medical Nutritional Institute (MNI), “but it is a significant risk factor for a wide variety of debilitating and serious conditions, from alcoholism and substance abuse to serious mood disorders and ischemic heart disease. In fact, many healthcare professionals argue that stress-related disorders are escalating so rapidly because the role played by stress is not being recognised and addressed early enough.”
Smith believes that as far as possible, prevention through proactive management is the key. “We need to be aware of how much stress we are under at any given time and take preventative measures, especially during particularly stressful periods,” he says.
But not all stress is bad for you and a certain amount of stress plays an important role in leading a fulfilled life. “It’s more about routinely looking after your mental health than trying to eliminate every source of stress. While a small dose of stress can actually help motivate us to perform at our best but there are also many times when we can feel overwhelmed, unable to cope and need a little extra support.”
Overwhelming stressful circumstances include moving house, divorce, the death of someone close, losing a job or suffering a serious illness or injury. “These are recognised stressful events, but we also need to be more conscious about the stress and emotional depletion caused by frequent daily living situations, such as starting a new job, writing exams or taking on an additional workload.”
Becoming aware of, and coping with, the smaller but far more frequent stressful events in our lives will improve our overall mental health and can help avert the development of serious stress-related conditions. “Anti-depressants and other therapies have a vital and necessary role to play when it comes to treating chronic moods disorders, but ideally, the optimum goal should be preventing the onset of these conditions by proactively managing stress levels and maintaining mental health,” says Smith.
The good news is that there are numerous steps one can take that provide an improved physiological advantage during stressful periods. “The best way to manage stress is by using a combination of techniques,” says Smith. “Eat a balanced and nutritious diet. Exercise regularly and stop poisoning your brain and body with cigarettes, street drugs and alcohol.” After these basic entry level steps are in place, he recommends the following steps.
Step 1: Cut yourself some slack.
When your mind is overloaded by stress, it simply can’t think straight. You will therefore need to distract your mind in order to allow it time to calm down. Take a short break and move away from the problem. This will give you the opportunity to reframe your thoughts and break the destructive cycle of continual mental dialogue, during which the same negative thoughts mill around your head in a never-ending merry-go-round that only consumes your energy and gets you nowhere in the end. Go out, take a stroll or preoccupy yourself with another task. Listen to music, watch TV or phone a friend.
Step 2: Take a natural supplement that improves your mental functioning.
“Here a combination of naturally derived compounds and plant extracts that display complimentary and synergistic pharmaceutical effects works best,” Smith Says. “In my opinion, the top two natural agents in this category are inositol and Rhodiola. Combined, however, they are highly effective and will make a real difference to your life. As compared to some hocus pocus type agents, there are real and impressive scientific evidence to substantiate their benefits.”
The natural product NeuroVance, which has been designed to enhance brain function during times of stress, exams, greater workloads, studying, concentration difficulties and mood-related problems, contains both inositol and Rhodiola. Due its low side effect profile, NeuroVance can be taken by adults as well as children over the age of ten.
Step 3: Think about the problem when your mind is at peace.
Once you have calmed down, focus on thinking positively and logically about the problem. Now is not the time for exaggeration or melodrama. Consider all your options in an objective manner. Fear and worry turn all of us into pessimists. Pessimists lose hope and try to justify failure. Do not allow yourself to follow this self-destructive route. Remember the saying: “Troubles are a lot like children - they grow bigger if you nurse them.”
Step 4: Do no damage.
Stress tends to make us short tempered, irritable and grumpy. Nobody deserves that sort of treatment from anyone. Be considerate and protect others from it, especially those who are close to you. Tormenting someone by being moody and snippy will only set you back a step or two by straining your relationships.
Step 5: Ask for help.
We live in a web of relationships with family, co-workers, friends and healthcare providers. People who draw strength from these relationships are able to tackle challenges that they would not be able to master on their own. Problems never seem so overwhelming when you share them with others. Enlisting support is quite simple - all you have to do is to ask.
Some people act as advisors and provide you with information, either in your personal or professional life. Others support or nurture you when times are tough. Contacts provide you with leads and are able to connect you with other people who will be able to assist you with your problem. It is unrealistic to expect this kind of support system from a single person. Think about what you need before you ask for advice, and when ready, ask the right person.
Step 6: Confront the situation when you are ready.
Although easier said than done, try not to ignore a problem. It will not go away and often remains lurking in the background, making you more anxious on a sub-conscious level. Develop better ways to deal with your problems. Listen to the advice that has been given to you. Don’t be obstinate, use it. Be cautious of exaggeration. Control all strong emotions and try and remain objective and positive. Maintain your integrity, mind your manners and never compromise on your moral principles.