STRESS – How to control it

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You know that ‘stressed’ backwards spells ‘desserts’, but did you know that acute stress can be quelled by introducing bananas and dark chocolate to your diet? So, what are you waiting for? Grab your slice and make a beeline for the chocolate fountain!

A diet rich in fruit and leafy vegetables is amongst the therapies advised by Stress Management Consultant Geraldine Canepa, who boasts a fifteen-year long experience in stress management and relaxation training for the treatment of debilitating symptoms like chest pains, anxiety, depression, palpitations, hypertension, digestive problems.

“Stress is one of the causes of hormonal imbalance which in turn causes low moods, irritability and anxiety, but one can learn to counterbalance it and help the pituitary gland through specific yoga poses and dietary adjustments,” Geraldine tells about the reasons that prompted her to organise a hormonal yoga therapy workshop in early February aimed at women suffering from PMS, infertility, perimenopausal conditions and other ‘period drama’. She adds that the initiative is inspired by the volume of requests she was inundated with after her successful Stress Awareness Day last November. “The International Stress Management Association (ISMA) which is my, and therapists’ like me, governing body, holds such event yearly, but 2017 was the first time it was extended overseas and I was honoured to be the coordinator here in Gibraltar. It was a successful day, although stressful (but in a positive way) for how busy it was and for the way it promoted awareness on various issues; it turned out to be the start of something, as more events during this year are planned.”

Stress Management Consultant Geraldine Canepa

Geraldine expects to hold relaxation workshops for students undergoing exams this spring, because she feels that teenagers nowadays are under overwhelming pressure, sometimes objectively more than they can handle, so that it turns into stress. She defines ‘pressure’ as the positive boost to our system that gets us alert, reactive and pro-active before danger, deadlines, relationships, and any purposeful pursuit we may encounter during our life. However, when the predicament grows too lengthy or too complex and we cannot envisage the end of it, not coping with the strain that the ‘fight or flight’ dilemma is putting on our body and brain can turn good stress, the motor of every human activity making life worth living, into bad stress, and it can actually make us ill, mentally or physically, with various symptoms like agoraphobia, palpitations and shooting chest pains that mimic heart attacks, with surplus stress for patients and families alike.

Relaxation Techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation and visualisation are mindful ways to reduce stress levels, and one should start ‘unwinding’ at least three hours before going to bed to achieve the perfect beauty sleep. Easier said than done, in today’s hectic lifestyle? Well, yes, but you needn’t sprawl on the couch for three hours before lying down in bed: you can carry out your chores while listening to soothing music (not necessarily waves crashing and seagull squawking: heavy metal will do too, if that is what makes you push negative thoughts out of your mind!).

In her therapy sessions, Geraldine coaches her patients into deep relaxation, claiming that a twenty-minute session, if accurately performed, may tally out as the equivalent of four hours sleep! Deep relaxation is not hypnosis, but it isn’t easy to achieve, as one need to clear one’s mind of all thought, worry and preoccupation (‘quieting your brain’ Geraldine describes it), to visualise the harmony and cooperation between consciousness and automatic bodily functions, while picturing oneself somewhere tranquil. There are breathing and muscle de-tensing techniques involved which take some time to master, but they grant satisfying results in naturally lowering the levels of adrenaline and insulin in the bloodstream.

Common perception is that stress has a psychological trigger manifesting itself in psychosomatic symptoms like acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, hypertension, arrhythmia, but we must keep in mind that conversely some medical conditions can elicit anxiety and depression, the most common being iron and vitamin B12 deficiency. Geraldine warns to have your blood checked if symptoms persist.

If you ever feel blue with no obvious reason, check your greens: are you eating enough broccoli, spinach, rocket and kale? Did you indulge in generous helpings of Brussels sprouts last Christmas dinner? Is your magnesium and potassium intake on the perky side? Magnesium absorption decreases with age, therefore it is advisable to top up your levels with supplements or, better still, include almonds, cashew nuts, salmon, yogurt/kefir, or kelp in your diet. Blueberries, plums and other dark-peel fruit, together with super-food bananas, are great anti-stress remedies, as they reduce cortisone levels, with the added bonus to boost your eyesight. Avocado, asparagus, salmon and other oily fish will do the trick too. There you go: you’ve got your healthy dinner sorted. And don’t forget to seal it with a matchbox-sized slab of dark chocolate, repeating the new mantra: ‘a dark chocolate a day keeps the doctor away’!

The stress management clinic is getting busier with patients as young as nine: “I see schoolchildren with severe panic attacks, too anxious to go to school or socialise, and it reflects on their wellbeing.” Cyber-bullying, distorted body image, peer pressure, career choice, parental expectations… some youngsters have a lot on their plates before they turn eighteen.

And what about their parents? “More women than men seek my advice,” she says, “perhaps because the mental health stigma attached is still strong, or perhaps because men are expected to ‘manly’ cope with pressure, but several concerns spark from straight-through working hours. At the end of their working day, they are too mentally drained by hours of uninterrupted computer screen gazing that they have no strength or will to do anything fun, unless they must, like for example mothers who drive their kids to practice or supervise their homework.”

Yes, lunch ‘al desko’ is negatively stressful, and one should instead make the most of lunch break by munching on something healthy for half an hour and spend the remaining half strolling about in a pleasant environment like the park, actually walking briskly to burn out the excess adrenaline. Unless you are an adrenaline junkie, in which case some extreme skateboarding, kitesurfing or parachuting is guaranteed to have your stress levels zeroed!

Like ‘Geraldine Canepa Stress Consultant’ on Facebook, or email her on geraldinecanepa@gmail.com.