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Are you tired all the time? Irritable? Do you have problems sleeping?

If so, you're not alone – but you may be feeling the effects of stress. Doctors estimate that more than 60 per cent of patient visits are caused by stress-related complaints.

But what is stress? Stress is the physical and mental tension you feel when you are faced with change – even a nice change, like a promotion, a new lover, or a new baby. Stress can attack your self-esteem and damage your self-confidence. Controlling stress is an important part of success in school, career, and relationships.

Remember, everyone gets stressed. It's a fact of life. Birth, death, marriage, divorce, work, unemployment, money troubles – they all have one thing in common: stress. But stress affects different people in different ways. The same event can be extremely stressful for one person, and a mere hiccup to someone else. And stress is not always a bad thing - some people thrive on stress, and use it to motivate themselves.

Stress is a problem only when a person feels they cannot cope. Put clinically, stress occurs when the demands made on a person exceed their ability to manage those demands. Stress in the workplace, for example, is a common problem, caused by many different factors – the attitude of a boss, the behaviour of a colleague, a promotion, demotion or being passed over.

Sometimes, stress can cause physical illness, and has been linked with a number of serious diseases, including cancer and heart disease . When we feel under stress, our body kicks into high gear to deal with the threat. Feelings of stress or anxiety instruct the nervous system to initiate the "fight or flight" response, which is characterised by shallow breathing, increased blood pressure and heart rate, and increased muscle tension. The longer we feel stressed, the greater the demand on our body.

Here are the early warning signs of stress…

  • Chronic fatigue - exhaustion, tiredness, a sense of being physically run down
  • Anger at those making demands
  • Self-criticism for putting up with the demands
  • Cynicism, negativity, and irritability
  • A sense of being besieged
  • Exploding easily at seemingly inconsequential things
  • Frequent headaches and tummy upsets
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Sleeplessness and depression
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feelings of helplessness

ounds familiar? Ok, here's what you can do… Over the last few years, we've heard a lot about the importance of exercising for health and fitness. But more and more busy people are finding that exercise can really help, too, with stress relief. Ok – pay attention: here comes the science. Exercise helps alleviates stress by relaxing tense muscles and releasing endorphins, serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline – all natural chemicals that help give you that sense of well-being. Endorphins are the body's natural pain killers and activate the sensory perception of well-being. Increased serotonin, supplied by regular exercise, helps elevate your mood. Or, put simply - the benefits of making time for exercising to relieve stress will repay you in added zip, a fresh view of your world, and possibly even better sleep. If you're feeling stressed, please take the time to visit your GP. He may refer you to a chartered physiotherapist, who will help you manage the physical symptoms of stress – fatigue, muscular aches, back and neck pain. A skilled physiotherapist may use massage, acupuncture, heat treatment and various interferential and ultrasound treatments, to help you gain relief. He or she will certainly also suggest regular exercise, relaxation, more sleep and a better diet.

Try these stress busters for yourself:

  • Inhale 10 deep breaths. Fill your lungs full, hold and exhale slowly, ridding all the air. Repeat. That fresh dose of oxygen will also recharge your energy.
  • Shrug shoulders up to your ears. Now relax the shoulders down. Feel the release of tension.
  • Roll shoulders in circling motion – upwards, backwards and down.
  • Mind-body exercises like pilates, yoga and taichi are very useful to relieve stress.
  • Stand and stretch with your hands over your head. Swing down to touch your toes, bending your knees if you need. Repeat 5 to 10 times. Now place your hands on your hips, with your legs apart. Bend forward until your chest is parallel. Turn your head and body slowly to the left, then right forward. Repeat five to 10 times.
  • Sitting in your chair, lift your arms up over your head and swing them down, back and forward again replicating a swimmer's backstroke. Repeat five times to begin with, working up to 10.
  • Lie on the floor or sit in a comfortable chair, supported by cushions. Close your eyes, put on some relaxing music. Now, with your hands at your side or on the chair arm, visualize each part of your body, beginning with your toes and moving up. Take your time and feel your body relax, bit by bit.
  • Sit on the edge of your chair, and lean forward, resting your chest on your knees with your hands and head hanging loosely. Slowly unroll your back, vertebra by vertebra, until you're sitting up nice and straight.
  • Finish your stress-releasing exercises with more deep breathing.
  • Watch a comedy show – laughing releases tension and increases the production of endorphins.
  • Take time out for yourself every day – mark it in your diary!
All PhysioNow clinical services will be fully open again from January 11. PhysioNow is classified as an 'essential heath service' and we are staying open to serve the community. Our physiotherapists look forward to working with you and your families throughout 2021.

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