Taking over from the nursing team on the afternoon shift, I had resumed (night shift) with the routine checking of inpatient folders. In the process, I noticed a man in his late forties, talking to himself, pacing back and forth between the cashpoint and the nurses’ office.
I carefully walked up to him, trying not to startle him.
“Good evening, Sir”, I greeted calmly. He could barely notice me, so I gently touched him on the shoulder. Suddenly, he snapped back into consciousness and turned in my direction.
“My name is Nurse Umoh”, I said with a smile, “may I offer you a seat?” He quickly obliged and in the good air-conditioned Nurses’ station; he sank into a comfortable chair across the table.
He went off on another circuitous round of words for the next 30minutes. Across the table, I sat patiently listening while scanning through his wife’s medical records. I kept nodding empathetically without interrupting his outburst.
Apparently, he was displeased with the seemingly outrageous hospital bill for his wife’s treatment. His wife, a 28-year-old unemployed mother of four boys (aged between 2 – 8 years), was 32 weeks pregnant with the fifth boy! Now, that was her second time of being hospitalized – in the same month. According to laboratory investigations, she had malaria and anemia in pregnancy.
Improper planning can escalate your stress levels.
She had been duly managed and discharged, but yet to settle a pending bill of thirty-three thousand Naira (
N33,000.00). Her husband was under enormous stress. Mr. James, an employee in a private firm in town, already faced queries bordering on absenteeism and it was just January. Rent renewal, school fees, utility bills, feeding, demands from relatives and now, the health of mother and child, was taking a heavy toll on him and his scarce resources.
From what I could gather, there had been a hostile disagreement between Mr. James and his wife at the pharmacy. At the top of his voice, he accused her of defying his orders and going ahead to seek medical care rather than wait till her next antenatal visit. In an actual sense, however, she had made the right decision. She was frail and most likely to have fallen ill.
Also, Mr. James didn’t want any form of birth control, saying his culture didn’t permit such a practice. It was pretty clear that given the situation, it was not a favorable stance.
Stress 2020 – what are the effects of stress on the body?
I offered to have his blood pressure checked and found it markedly elevated. That necessitated me to give a brief description of how his body was reacting to the circumstances. The impact of stress transverses all the systems of the body and eventually, every aspect of our lives but because people handle stress differently, symptoms of stress can vary significantly.
According to www.webmd.com, an online medical journal, “Stress is the body’s reaction to harmful situations, whether they’re real or perceived”. When our bodies feel vulnerable, a chemical reaction occurs in our bodies that allows us to act in a way to prevent injury. This reaction is known as the “fight-or-flight” or the “stress” response.
Symptoms may be grossly misinterpreted or poorly understood as they may resemble manifestations of other medical conditions. For some, they may become easily agitated, frustrated, and moody. The feelings could be overwhelming and beyond control. In extreme cases, it contributes to low self-esteem, loneliness, worthlessness, and depression which can lead to withdrawal or suicide.
According to www.mayoclinic.org, “stress consumes our energy; causes headaches; upsets the stomach with symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, and nausea; instinctively our bodies experience aches, pains, tense muscles, chest pain, and rapid heartbeat”. In addition to these, the body gradually loses sleep, is susceptible to frequent colds and infection; loss of sexual desire and/or ability; nervous behavior.
Coupled with these alterations, www.mind.org.uk posits that, “our minds are constantly worried, racing thoughts, forgetfulness, disorganization and inability to focus, poor judgment, being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side further impedes our problem-solving abilities.”
As time passes, one’s appetite changes, either by eating more or barely eating. Also, procrastination, avoiding responsibilities, increased use or abuse of alcohol and/or drugs, more nervous behaviors such as fidgeting and pacing, etc., occur gradually.
Note, however, healthy life does not equate the absence of stress but rather, the implementation of an effective coping mechanism.
Agreeing with www.gostress.com, sources of stress can be grouped into six:
- environmental stress,
- social stress,
- organizational stress,
- physiological stress,
- psychological stress,
- significant events stress
Mr. James’ case was a combination of different sources of stress. In managing stress, one must understand its source (stressors) and whatever the source, there are steps to managing it.
Here are a few tips to observe.
STRESS 2020 – TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR LIFE.
Stress can be prompted by problems that seem impossible to solve. It may even be as a result of factors we ignore or take less seriously. Lack of or improper planning is a sure contributor. Take Mr. James’ for instance. His predicament was compounded by his belief. In his culture, birth control has tagged a taboo. As a result, his wife birthed without conscious family planning, nothing!
The economic situation of the country was not even going to take them into consideration.
Life’s situation can be grouped into events and activities. To feel more in control, knowing how to find solutions to problems would lower stress levels. Planning is a key ingredient. One problem-solving technique involves writing down the problem and coming up with as many possible solutions as one can.
Decide on the pros and cons of each one and select the best solution. Write down each step that you need to take as part of the solution: what will be done, how it will be done when it will be done, who is involved, and where it will take place.
STRESS 2020 – MANAGE YOUR TIME WISELY
According to www.mentalhelp.net, “Sometimes, we all feel overburdened by our To-Do list and this is a common cause of stress”. In as much as diarizing your task is a way of keeping track, you have to also accept that you cannot do everything at once and all by yourself. This is where prioritizing and delegating would come in.
Compose a log of all the things that you need to accomplish and arrange them in order of honest importance. Be mindful of what tasks you need to do personally and what can be delegated to others to do. Record which tasks need to be done straight away, subsequently, or when time allows.
By elimination, what started out as an overpowering and insurmountable task list, will be broken down into a series of smaller, more manageable tasks spread out over a longer time frame, with some tasks removed from the list entirely through delegation or using the concept of microeconomic theory, the opportunity cost.
Think of creating buffer times to attend to unexpected and emergency tasks, and to include time for your own relaxation and well-being as well.
STRESS 2020 – EAT HEALTHY AND LEAD A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE
“You are what you eat”, is an indication that our nutrition provides energy and protection to our bodies. Mrs. James was already anemic. That was enough insight into the nutritional status of the family. Worse still, Mr. James consumed a lot of alcohol in an attempt to wade off the stressful situation and bask in the temporary euphoria. Least known to him, avoiding or at least reducing consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine helps tackle stress. Lifestyle modification is a must in stress management. It’s the only way to prevent relapsing.
Consuming products that contain nervous system stimulants only increases stress levels rather than reduce it. Alcoholic drinks depress the system when consumed in large quantities, but it arouses the central nervous system in smaller quantities. Therefore, indulging in binge drinking or using alcohol as a way to alleviate stress is not ultimately helpful.
Instead, take decaffeinated coffee, non-alcoholic drinks, water, herbal teas, or diluted natural fruit juices with the intention to keep yourself well hydrated as this will help your body survive better during stress. Reduce your intake of refined sugars – contained in many processed foods – as energy boost arising from it will cause you to feel tired and irritable. Take fresh fruits and lots of vegetables instead. Generally, try to eat a healthy, well-balanced, and nutritious diet.
STRESS 2020 – DO MORE PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES/EXERCISE.
For an average worker in the city, like Mr. James, time to exercise is a luxury. Our bodies release massive amounts of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol during stress. These are “fight or flight chemicals. Physical exercise can help our bodies to breakdown these excessive stress chemicals and restore our bodies and mind to a calmer and more relaxed state. However, humans have evolved and stress in the modern age is rarely resolved by a fight or flight response.
During an acute phase of stress, going for a brisk walk for fresh air or joining a local football team could help. You maybe like Mr. James who flippantly shrugged and said, “I walk through traffic every day, then I climb the stairs to my office when at work, do I still need exercise?” “Yes,” was my answer. Try to incorporate more physical activities into your daily routine on a regular basis, either before or after work, or at lunchtime; considering there is a big difference between passive and active exercise. Consistent physical activity will also enhance the quality of your sleep.
STRESS 2020 – SLEEP DEEPLY AND FOR MORE HOURS.
Inadequate rest and sleep greatly impact our lives. It can lead to stress and conversely, stress prevents our bodies from a good sleep. As thoughts keep spiraling through our heads, stopping us from relaxing well enough to fall asleep, one may resort to sedatives (sleeping pills). Mr. James was caught in this web. That was a poor solution as it may lead to drug dependence.
Aim to maximize your relaxation before going to sleep. Make sure the environment is conducive and devoid of other stressors.
—How can you get a good sleep listening to the groaning sounds made by a neighbor’s generating set (I pass my neighbor)? Here, the use of a headset is recommended. Listen to cool, soothing music instead. Stop any brainstorming activities several hours to bedtime so that your brain has time to settle.
Also, try a warm bath. You can then read a calming and undemanding book for a few minutes. This enables relaxation. According to www.webmd.com, sleep experts suggest, “going to bed at roughly the same time each day, helps our minds and bodies get used to a predictable bedtime routine”.
STRESS 2020 – TALK TO SOMEONE ABOUT YOUR STRESS
In big cities, nobody seems to care about the other person’s state of affairs. Talking to someone, sometimes a stranger might be difficult but it works. Simply expressing your feelings can be helpful. It may not mitigate the problem immediately, but as the popular saying goes, “a problem shared is half solved.”
Talking works by either distracting you from stressful thoughts or releasing some of the built-up tension. It gives you more insight about your stressors or stressful events, thereby helping you understand the situation better. Know too, that stress can put a veil on your judgment and prevent you from seeing things objectively. Talking things through with a close friend, colleague, or even a trained professional, can help you find solutions to your stress by putting your problems into perspective.
STRESS 2020 – LEARN TO SAY ‘NO’ AND AVOID ADDITIONAL STRESSORS
A mutual cause of overwhelming stress is having too much to do and too little time to accomplish it. Atypically, Mr. James would agree to take on additional responsibilities. Learning to say “No”, to additional or unimportant requests will help to reduce your level of stress, and may also help you develop more self-confidence.
Saying “No” in our clime might be difficult. It has been ingrained in our subconscious to cater to members of our extended family with some connections lengthening into generations of family ties thereby further compounding the problem. Many people like Mr. James find it hard to say “No” because they want to help, are trying to appear nice, and want to be liked. For others, it is a fear of conflict or rejection. Being unable to say no is self-inflicted. Practice to say no when necessary and see how much mental, physical, emotional baggage it eliminates from your life.
STRESS 2020 – TAKE A SICK LEAVE AND REST IF YOU ARE ILL
Finally, if you feel unwell, whether with symptoms or not, please do not insist to carry on any further. A moment’s rest will enable the body to recuperate faster. Allowing stressful activities to pile up isn’t healthy. Take time out to face life’s challenges head-on and avoid an overwhelmingly stressful situation.
Stress is just the way our bodies respond to life’s ups and downs. Just like the reading of the ECG machine, it indicates the presence of life. Stressors are drawn from our environment, be it social, financial, organizational, physiological, or psychological.
As a nurse, my task is to care for others in need. The task in itself is stressful; but thanks to nursing education and increasing knowledge through practice, I have the right problem-solving tools to cope. Helping those in need is not tailored to just nursing. Helping others in need comes with a boost to one’s mood and a profound feeling of accomplishment.
Helping others in distress does not require a Registered Nurse Certificate or a nursing degree. To reduce the burden of stress in our society, we need to be sympathetic, sensitive, and show empathy to others. Coping with stress is entirely dependent on effective stress management.
Taking charge of your life, managing your time well, eating a healthy/balanced diet, leading a healthy lifestyle, more physical exercise, good sleep, talking to someone, adequate rest, and learning to say no, cannot be overemphasized. Mr. James’ case could actually progress into depression if his stress coping mechanism fails. Clinical depression is more serious and long-lasting than stress, the resultant effect is an increase in the number of suicides recorded (in Nigeria) today.
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