Understanding and managing stress following a change in health.

What is stress?

Stress occurs when you perceive that internal or external demands exceed your personal and social resources. It's a normal response, often experienced after a change in health, including a concussion. Below are common signs and symptoms of stress, which may overlap with those from a concussion.

Signs and symptoms of stress

Cognitive symptoms Emotional symptoms
  • Memory problems
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Poor judgment
  • Seeing only the negative
  • Anxious or racing thoughts
  • Constant worrying
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability or short temper
  • Agitation, inability to relax
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Depression or general unhappiness
Physical symptoms Behavioural symptoms
  • Aches and pains [e.g., headaches]
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Nausea, dizziness
  • Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Frequent illnesses
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns.
  • Isolating yourself
  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
  • Using substances to relax.
  • Nervous habits (e.g., nail biting, pacing)

Managing stress

Stress management involves practices, habits, and environmental factors. After a concussion, it is very important to manage stress in healthy ways to support recovery. Psychological factors like stress and anxiety can exacerbate concussion symptoms. Explore the following strategies for at least four weeks to evaluate their effectiveness.

Six stress management strategies:

  • 1. Embrace a healthy lifestyle

    Strengthening your physical health can boost your resistance to stress. Here are steps to take:

    • Exercise regularly. Engage in light aerobic activities like walking, using a treadmill or a stationary bike. Gradually increase the frequency, then duration, and finally intensity as your symptoms allow. Exercise helps release built-up stress and tension.
    • Eat a healthy diet. What you eat can affect your stress resilience. Begin your day with a nutritious breakfast and maintain your energy with balanced meals throughout the day.
    • Reduce caffeine and sugar. Cut back on coffee, soft drinks, chocolate and sugary snacks. These temporary energy boosts can lead to mood and energy crashes.
    • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. Self-medicating with these substances may provide temporary relief, but they are harmful and can worsen your situation. Face problems directly with a clear mind.
    • Prioritize sleep. Adequate sleep is crucial for both your mind and body. Fatigue can increase stress and hinder clear thinking.
  • 2. Make time for fun and relaxation

    Nurture yourself to reduce stress. Regularly make time for fun and relaxation to better handle life's stressors.

    Here are healthy ways to relax:

    • Go for a walk
    • Spend time in nature
    • Connect with a friend
    • Engage in a good workout to release tension
    • Write in a journal
    • Take a long bath
    • Light scented candles
    • Savour a cup of tea
    • Play with a pet
    • Work in your garden
    • Get a massage
    • Read a good book
    • Listen to music
    • Watch a comedy

    Don't forget to take care of yourself in the midst of life's hustle and bustle. Nurturing yourself is a necessity, not a luxury.

    • Set aside relaxation time. Allocate time for relaxation and guard it against other obligations.
    • Connect with others. Spend time with positive people who enrich your life. A strong support system will buffer you from the negative effects of stress.
    • Do something you enjoy every day. Make time for activities that bring you joy, whether it's stargazing, playing an instrument, or working on a hobby.
    • Keep your sense of humour. The ability to laugh, especially at yourself, helps your body combat stress in multiple ways.

    Learn the relaxation techniques

    Manage stress levels by practicing relaxation and mindfulness through methods like yoga and meditation. These techniques build physical and emotional resilience and enhance your overall well-being with consistent practice.

  • 3. Avoid unnecessary stress

    While you can't eliminate all stress, you might be surprised by how many stressors you can reduce. Here's how:

    • Establish priorities. Analyze your schedule, responsibilities and daily tasks. Decide where to allocate your time and energy. Differentiate between "should" and "must." Seek help or delegate tasks if needed or eliminate non-essential tasks.
    • Learn to say no. Know your limits and be firm about what you can take on. Avoid overextending yourself and learn to say no more easily once you've identified your priorities and stamina.
    • Avoid stressful people. If someone consistently brings stress into your life, limit your interaction with them or consider ending the relationship entirely.
    • Take control of your environment. Make changes to your surroundings to reduce stress. For instance, avoid the news if it makes you anxious, choose less busy routes to reduce traffic-related stress, or simplify grocery shopping by doing it online.
  • 4. Alter the situation

    If you can't avoid a stressful situation, try to change it. Alter your approach and communication to modify the situation:

    • Express your feelings. Share your concerns openly and respectfully. Avoid bottling up your emotions, as doing so can lead to resentment and a stagnant situation.
    • Be willing to compromise. When requesting behaviour changes from others, be open to making changes yourself. Compromise often leads to mutually agreeable solutions.
    • Be assertive. Take an active role in your life. Confront problems directly, set boundaries, and consider safety and judgment before taking action.
    • Manage your time. Effective time management can reduce stress. Plan ahead, avoid overextending yourself, and make sure to stay organized to maintain focus and calm.
  • 5. Adapt to the stressor

    If you can't change the stressor, adapt yourself to cope with the situation and regain a sense of control. Here's how:

    • Re-frame problems. Try to view stressful situations in a more positive light. Instead of getting frustrated in traffic, see it as an opportunity for relaxation, listening to music or enjoying some alone time.
    • Consider the bigger picture. Reflect on the long-term importance of a stressful situation. Will it matter in a month, a year? Prioritize your energy based on these considerations.
    • Adjust your standards. Recognize your limits and don't demand perfection from yourself. Set realistic standards and embrace the concept of "good enough.”
    • Focus on the positive. When stress is overwhelming, take a moment to appreciate the positive aspects of your life, including your own qualities and talents. This perspective can help you keep stress in check.

    Changing your outlook on stress

    Change your thinking to positively impact your emotional and physical well-being. Avoid negative self-talk and eliminate self-defeating thoughts that include words like "always," "never," "should," and "must."

  • 6. Accept the things you can't change

    Some stressors are unavoidable. Coping with stress in such cases involves acceptance. It may be challenging, but it's often easier than struggling against an unchangeable situation. Here's how:

    • Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Recognize that many things in life are beyond your control, especially other people's behaviour. Focus on how you respond to problems instead of stressing over them.
    • Look for the upside. See major challenges as opportunities for personal growth. If your own decisions contributed to stress, reflect on them and learn from your mistakes.
    • Share your feelings. Reach out for support from family, friends, or a therapist. Even if you can't change the stressful situation, talking to someone you trust can be very healing.
    • Learn to forgive. Accept the imperfections of the world and the mistakes people make. Let go of anger and resentment to free yourself from negative energy and move forward.

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