“We would not be alive if we did not have the stress response,” says Dr Ela Manga, integrative medical practitioner and author of Breathe: Strategising Energy in the Age of Burnout. If you’re going to be successful in waging a war against your unhealthy stress (that affects your quality of life), then it’s important to know and understand this enemy. 

The results of the 2019 Profmed Medical Scheme’s annual Stress Index — once again — found work, health and finances as the biggest culprits that contribute to our unhealthy stress levels. “If anything, over the years, the Stress Index has taught us that work-related stress remains one of the biggest health concerns for South African professionals,” says Profmed CEO Craig Comrie. 

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In an ailing economy where one professional is expected to take on the jobs of four individuals — all in the name of “cost-saving”, it’s no wonder most of us are walking time bombs. More than half of the professionals polled for Profmed’s annual Stress Index cited lack of sleep, short-temperedness, unhealthy eating, working long hours and alcohol depency as the biggest stress red flags.

If stress is already rearing its ugly head two months into the new year, Dr Manga suggests “coding” it into green, orange or red zones. See a quick rundown of the stress zones below: 

· Optimum green zone: You are focused and motivated, emotionally connected but with solid boundaries. You breathe, sleep and eat well, and your immune system is strong. 

· Orange or danger zone: You are more wired than tired, and might feel that you struggle to switch off or focus on one thing at a time. Your breathing may be shallow, you may be feeling anxious or irritable, have muscle tension, your blood pressure may be rising or you could have trouble sleeping. 

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So, how will I know when I have crossed over to the dangerous side of stress? Look out for the following symptoms: constant fatigue, weight gain or loss, apathy, loss of memory or concentration, a feeling of disconnection, depression and meaninglessness, as well as a lack of passion and direction.

Enough of the bad news — how can we ensure that we stay in Optimum Green Zone for as long as possible? First things first — rest isn’t lazy people’s favourite pastime; it’s an absolute necessity. However, you’ll be sad to learn that binge-watching Netflix isn’t a form of relaxation. “That’s leisure, not conscious, deep relaxation,” Dr Manga explains. The same goes for people using exercise as a form of time out, which takes away from them being mindful of their bodies.

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To master the ever-elusive skill of deep rest, Dr Manga advocates for the ABC approach/formula:

· A = Awareness: Pay attention to the parts of your body that house stress and tension. Pay attention to your thoughts. Ask yourself the following: What story am I telling myself right now? 

· B = Breathing: Take conscious deep breaths between your tasks throughout the day. Deepen and slow down your breathing. Breathe into the area that you are holding tension in your body. 

· C = Conscious choices: Ask yourself what support you need in your life to make and sustain lifestyle changes. 

In addition to this approach, make an effort to spend time in nature, find a creative outlet, journal your thoughts as often as you can and remember to breathe slowly and deeply.