What is Stress?

Stress is part of everyday life and a natural reaction to change and adjustment to major life changes. Our bodies respond to stress with the “fight or flight” response in the central nervous system, which involves a series of chemical changes that help us to prepare to face the stressful situation.

When the fight or flight response is activated too often, this can result in negative effects. Some of these effects can include reduced protection from disease and infection; hypertension; heart, live and kidney conditions and psychological disorders.

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Recognizing the signs of stress

Physical signs of stress response can include:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Headaches
  • Stomach aches
  • Muscle tension

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Emotional signs of stress can include:

  • Frustration
  • Nervousness
  • Discouragement
  • Anxiety
  • Anger/Irritability

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Stress and Acquired Brain Injury

Following an acquired brain injury factors such as changes of role within the family, financial pressures and forced unemployment can all add to the burden of stress experienced by the injured person.

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Key Skills for Managing Stress

  1. Awareness– trying to get a clearer understanding of the situation and how it affects you.
  2. Acceptance– recognizing realistically what is controllable and what is not and how that affects you.
  3. Coping Skills– learning various strategies, such as relaxation, meditation, positive thinking, exercise, creativity, etc.
  4. Action Skills– making the changes to counteract or reduce the level of stress.

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Coping strategies for managing stress

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

In this technique a person learns to identify muscle groups and the difference between tension and relaxation in the muscles. Focus on the 4 main muscle groups working from the feet upwards.

  • Thighs, buttocks, calves and feet
  • Chest, stomach and lower back
  • Head, face, throat and shoulders
  • Hands, forearms and biceps

Tense individual muscles for 5-7 seconds and relax for 10-15 seconds. This should be done twice a day for 15 min.

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Slow breathing techniques

First, focus on your breathing pattern. Identify whether you breathe mainly through the chest or through the stomach. Short, shallow, rapid breaths from the upper chest should be avoided.

Tiredness, fatigue and a disrupted routine, all of which are common with an acquired brain injury, can also contribute to increased levels of stress.

Additionally, most people with a brain injury find it much harder to deal with stress. When coping with stress we use a lot of mental energy in order to recognize symptoms, create strategies to cope and remember techniques for coping. A brain injury can dramatically impact our ability to do all this, resulting in a lowered ability to cope with stress.

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Understanding and Managing Stress

The first and most important way to reduce stress is to become aware of the sources of it. One way to do this might be through a stress awareness diary that lists the date and time, the event, its severity, and symptoms and coping strategies used. The nest step is to categorize stress into

  • Controllable vs. Uncontrollable
  • Important vs. Unimportant

This can help a person view their situation more clearly and objectively.

The aim is to breathe deeply and slowly though the nose. You should feel greater movement in the stomach than the chest as you inhale and exhale. Practice breathing exercises every day.

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Exercise and Nutrition

Regular exercise and a healthy diet can contribute enormously to a reduction in stress. Reduction of caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and sugar in particular can contribute to a reduction in stress levels.

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Learning to choose a less stressful life

One way to cope with stress is to learn to avoid those situations that you know will be most stressful. Choose situations where distractions will be reduced to a minimum, retire to a quiet environment and look at ways to avoid information overload.

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Other techniques

Meditation, Visualization, Yoga, Tai Chi, Acupuncture, and complementary therapies such as massage and reflexology have all been shown to have a beneficial impact on levels of stress. If your level of stress is severe, consult a qualified professional such as your doctor or psychologist for help with a stress reduction program.

 
 
 
While all care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of this factsheet the information is intended to be a guide only and proper medical and professional advise should be sought. Elements Support Services are not responsible for any damages or injuries that arise as a result of the information in this factsheet.