Unpacking stress and how to manage it

04 Jul, 2022 - 00:07 0 Views
Unpacking stress and how to manage it

The Herald

Dr Chido Rwafa Madzvamutse


Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to the community. 

There really can be no health without mental health. Healthy minds make for healthy lives. 

When we are mentally well, we contribute positively to our families, our communities and our workplaces. 

Conversely when we are struggling with our mental well-being, we subsequently become less and less productive.


Stress is a major contributor to mental ill health. It is a physiological, psychological and behavioural response to the demands life makes on us, the pressure of life. 

Pressure can be healthy and motivate us in life, but too much stress; continued chronic stress, stress not properly managed can be detrimental to our minds and our bodies. 

Life and work can be physically and emotionally demanding and this can lead to unhealthy levels of stress. 

The working, “adult-ting” phase of life can be stressful. It is a season when apart from work we are to start families, raise children and keep marriages alive. 

We become more and more responsible for parents and grandparents, we have to deal with family challenges and we have to work hard to provide and make ends meet. 

If we do not manage all this stress we can become overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet the constant demands. 

As the stress continues, we can begin to lose the interest and motivation that led us to take on certain roles in the first place. 

What puts us at risk of stress?

There are several individual, interpersonal and environmental factors that make us vulnerable to unhealthy stress. Anxiety and a tendency to be emotionally high strung can be partly inherited just as height and facial features. 

However, as individuals we can also develop unhelpful personality traits. 

We can become perfectionistic, self-critical, the need to be in control and a reluctance to delegate to others. 

These traits can all put us at risk of building up unhealthy stress. 

The way we think about ourselves, about others, how we see the world can also contribute to high levels of stress. 

Anxious, fretful reactions to negative life events, a victim mentality or a sense of learned helplessness in the face of life challenges can lead to distress. 

Holding a pessimistic view of oneself, other people and of the situation one finds him or herself in can also lead to stress.

Apart from one own individual vulnerabilities, the environment we live in can also contribute to unhealthy stress. The way we are brought up in our families can contribute significantly to the attitude we have towards life stressors. 

Children watch and copy how their parents deal with stress. This can eventually influence the children’s stress management abilities. As adults, our friendships and marriages contribute to our support network and if these relationships are troubled this too can weaken our ability to manage stress.

Could you be stressed?

 Do you constantly feel physically and emotional exhausted?

Do you find yourself getting cynical, negative or pessimistic about life?

Do you find yourself getting easily angered and irritable?

Do you find yourself becoming less effective in what you do, less productive?

 Are you struggling to concentrate?

 Are you struggling to sleep?

 Are you often anxious, worrying a lot?

 Are you getting sick often? 

How do I cope — building resilience?

It is highly unlikely that we can ever escape from all the pressures of life. We can however, become internally stronger and resilient in the face of all that comes against us. 

Stress management involves preventing pressure and also recharging from the wear and tear that life comes with. 

Guard your mind and thoughts: Stress comes from unmanaged thoughts . . . We need to watch the kind of thoughts we allow our minds to dwell on. 

Guard what enters your mind, examine the narrative you are telling yourself about your experiences. 

Maintaining a positive perspective is crucial. The glass is both half full and half empty, how you see it determines how your story will unravel. 

The manner in which we perceive life has a great bearing on the response we have to life’s challenges. 

What meaning you give to the challenges you face will determine your reactions. 

We also need to be mentally flexible and have a problem-solving approach to life. 

Guard your heart, manage

 your emotions: 

Stress comes from unmanaged emotions. Be honest with yourself, find time to reflect daily. 

The ultimate purpose of emotion is in its expression. Emotions are there to be felt and if we ignore, push away, suppress or repress what we are actually feeling it can have a devastating effect on our mental well-being. 

Whatever we are feeling is based on our thoughts and perceptions about what we are experiencing and this must be acknowledged. 

Acknowledge the events, the experience, the thoughts, the feelings that are occurring. 

Stop and acknowledge that you are scared, angry, uncertain, confused or overwhelmed. 

Have a few trusted people in your life who you can be honest with and vulnerable to. 

Guard your time: 

Stress comes from unmanaged time. Manage your time wisely, organise yourself and prioritise what is truly most important to you. Balance your life and work responsibilities: ensure time to reset and recharge. Have a life outside of work or school. Rest and recuperate: get adequate sleep, have scheduled seasons for rest. 

Guard your vision: 

Stress comes from unmanaged priorities. Work towards a vision for your life, this will allow you to self-motivate instead of relying on external motivation. Set goals and review them often. Having a sense of purpose can help you deal with life pressures in a better way. 

Build your relationships: 

Stress comes from unmanaged relationships. We are interdependent, relational beings. Relationships are the most important, most valuable assets we have in this life. 

Strive to build strong relationships with the people in your family and community.

Look out next week for the next article of demystifying mental health and wellness as we unpack burnout and how to manage it.

l The Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) article written by: Dr Rwafa Madzvamutse, a consultant psychiatrist.

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