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The Three Levels of Stress Management

Updated: Jun 6


Stressed Man

Life can be challenging.


Pursuing anything worthwhile often entails encountering resistance, which manifests as stress. Stress signals that we are pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone. This pressure can take the form of either good or bad stress, with the former being beneficial in the short term and the latter potentially leading to serious long-term consequences.

 

According to the 2019 Cigna 360 Well-Being Survey, 92% of Singaporeans experience stress, surpassing the global average of 84%. Nearly one in eight Singaporeans find their stress unmanageable. Job-related stress tops the list of stressors, followed by financial and health concerns. Given that so many of us experience stress, knowing that we are managing it well would be good.

 

To manage our stress well, we first need to understand it. It is also crucial that we can distinguish between good and bad stress as we want to utilise good stress but minimise bad stress. In this article, we will delve into the concept of stress, its recognition, and The Three Levels of Stress Management to aid in coping with life's pressures.


Understanding Stress - Good and Bad

Stress, in nature, prepares the body for action, often known as fight or flight. The process begins in the brain when the amygdala interprets danger from incoming information and triggers the release of stress hormones - adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones cause enhanced blood circulation, heightened awareness, and elevated energy levels. While these hormones can be helpful in the short term, prolonged exposure can lead to severe physical, mental, and behavioural issues.

 

So how do we differentiate between helpful and harmful stress?


Both good and bad stress triggers the release of adrenaline and cortisol, but their duration, triggers, and consequences are different.

 

Good stress arises from challenges that energize and motivate us. Good stress makes us feel inspired, thrilled, and excited. It is also perceived as positive because it often pushes people to overcome challenges and adversity which can lead to success and happiness. We experience good stress when we are, for example, excited to start a new job, preparing for a first date, or getting ready to participate in a competition. Most important to note is that the effects of good stress do not last long enough to result in harmful consequences.  

 

Bad stress, on the other hand, is chronic and draining, often stemming from fear and threat, and can impede progress and well-being. We experience bad stress whenever we cannot detach our minds from the perceived threat over extended periods. Some situations in which this can occur include financial difficulties, health problems, relationship issues, social pressure, and work-related stressors such as heavy workloads, job security, and conflicts with co-workers.

 

Symptoms of bad stress manifest in the mind, body, and behaviour. Mental indicators include poor concentration, reduced productivity, apathy, and mood swings. Physical symptoms include fatigue, abnormal weight gain or loss, headaches, tightness in the chest, loss of sex drive, and muscular tension in the back, neck and shoulders. Behavioural changes might include social withdrawal or substance abuse. If left untreated, these signs can escalate into short and long-term health issues.

 

Short-term health problems include insomnia, high blood pressure, suppressed immune system, skin conditions such as rashes, infertility, and digestive issues. Over the long term, stress can contribute to heart disease, strokes, depression, and anxiety disorders.

 

Fortunately, there are many things that we can do to help reverse the impact of stress and prevent it from ever seriously impacting our health and well-being.

 

Next, we will share the Three Levels of Stress Management that can help you face life’s challenges and stressors without compromising your health and well-being.



The Three Levels of Stress Management



The Three Levels of Stress Management by Sasha Javadpour

The Stress Management Pyramid depicts an additive framework for managing stress where every level adds qualitative value – the more levels one adds to their arsenal, the more equipped they are to manage stress.



Level 1: The Basics – Sleep, Nutrition, Physical Exercise


Sleep: Adrenaline and cortisol released due to stress cause heightened alertness, making it harder to sleep and stay asleep. Getting sufficient sleep is essential for physical and mental well-being. Establishing a regular sleep cycle, developing a relaxing bedtime routine, and limiting stimulants (e.g. screentime & caffeine) before bed can promote restorative sleep and support the immune system.

 

Nutrition: Healthy nutrition not only supports physical health but also, plays a significant role in mental health and stress management. Stress-induced cravings for unhealthy foods can lead to poor nutrition and weight fluctuations. A balanced diet rich in omega-3 fats, vegetables, and lean proteins can help support the immune system and regulate cortisol levels. With all the diet plans out there it can be challenging to discern what will work for you. Denise Teo, Senior Dietitian at Chi Longevity says, "I deeply believe that nutrition transcends mere sustenance; it's also about nurturing the mind, especially in managing stress. The right balance of nutrients can stabilise mood, enhance mental clarity, and help fortify our resilience against life’s pressures, making a well-rounded diet an essential pillar of emotional well-being and effective stress management.”

Nutritionists and dieticians, like Denise, help their clients develop and stick to a personalised dietary plan based on their health status, lifestyle, and goals.

 

Physical Exercise: Regular exercise is a powerful stress reliever. Even short, consistent workouts offer significant benefits. According to Body Transformation Coach Timothy Loh at HYPE, “Exercise is the most potent and underrated antidepressant”. Senior Physiotherapist Sahail Malik at UFIT adds, “Through exercise and physiotherapy techniques, you can boost endorphins, reduce stress hormones, and improve sleep – all essential ingredients for a positive mental state”.

For a more in-depth analysis of your needs and targeted support, these fitness experts work closely with clients to create tailored exercise plans.


Level 2: Advanced Self-Care


Healthy Time Management: Taking control of our time allows us to prioritize goals, break tasks into manageable steps, and align our actions with our values. Setting SMART goals (or goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Specific) and practising self-compassion are key aspects of effective time management. We only have 24 hours a day. Why not make sure we are spending it right?

 

Mindfulness: Mindfulness reduces anxiety and improves emotional regulation by focusing on the present moment and our body's responses to stress. Practices like meditation and yoga promote relaxation and clarity of mind. Mindfulness is not about eliminating stress but rather developing a healthier relationship with it, allowing us to navigate life's ups and downs with greater ease and balance.

 

Rediscovering Meaning: Stress can detract us from goals, undermine feelings of satisfaction and joy, and trigger existential questions about meaning and purpose in life. Rediscover meaning by reflecting on personal values, engaging in activities that bring joy, cultivating gratitude, and fostering meaningful relationships.

 

Social Support: Connecting with friends, family, and colleagues provides emotional validation, practical assistance, and different perspectives on managing stress. A strong support network buffers against the negative effects of stress. People who feel supported by friends, family, co-workers, or their community, are better equipped to cope with stressful situations when interacting with supportive individuals. We can share feelings and receive empathy and understanding. This can provide comfort and relief, making us feel more grounded and resilient to stress.


Level 3: Seeking Therapy


Acknowledging a problem is often deemed the initial step in resolving it. Yet, admitting we feel stressed or overwhelmed can pose a significant challenge. Sharing these feelings with family, friends, colleagues, or superiors can be even more daunting. Consequently, many individuals opt to tackle these issues alone. Sometimes that is enough, and sometimes it can become overwhelming or lonely.

Therapy offers a safe and confidential space where individuals can confide in a professional companion without fear of judgment, appearing vulnerable, or facing negative repercussions. Therapists provide empathy and a genuine commitment to supporting your personal growth and development. Through honest conversations, individuals can gain insight into themselves, their relationships, and their environment. Therapy also facilitates the exploration of underlying issues and conflicts, leading to healthier coping mechanisms and reduced stress intensity and frequency.

At this level, we are changing our approach from reacting to the symptoms to one that addresses the root cause. Here, we explore our relationship with stress, what it is about the situation that triggers our stress response, and why the response has been so intense.



In Conclusion


Stress is an inevitable part of life. We can either allow it to control our lives and limit our potential, or we can learn to make it an ally in our journey towards an exciting and fulfilling life.


Please feel free to get in touch if you have any further questions. We are always happy to help.


You can also check out our article on Finding the Right Practitioner to guide your search.


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