Johannesburg - Learning to manage stress well can be your ticket to living dreams and reaching your goals.

Two employees facing the same workplace difficulty might respond very differently. The one who uses the stress it triggers as a developmental opportunity could gain from the challenge.

I asked stress expert and author of Stress Gone! Bridget Edwards to shed some light on how we can all begin changing negative stress into positive power.

1. Many scientists argue that stress is a good thing. But what’s the difference between good and bad stress?

Like all aspects of duality, there is both positive and negative stress. A level of stress is necessary for man’s survival, our evolution as a species, as well as being a catalyst for change.

Humans typically learn and grow best when stretched, or when pain and suffering is involved, but excessive or chronic stress can be detrimental, even fatal, to our health and well-being.

2. How do you know if you are experiencing unhealthy levels of stress?

There are no hard and fast rules because stress is unique to each and every individual – this is what makes the effects of stress difficult to discern.

What stresses one person could be perceived by another as a thrilling challenge. Developing self-awareness and self-understanding is the most important attribute to learn.

Know yourself, especially your body. Know your limits, and be realistic about your abilities. Listen to your body. The body has an innate intelligence and wisdom, which is constantly providing feedback, such as discomfort, aches and pains, illness, disease etc.

Unhealthy levels of stress can show up as cognitive, emotional, physical or behavioural symptoms, which vary from person to person.

The biggest tragedy of the modern age is that we have disconnected from our bodies. We don’t listen to this innate intelligence and wisdom.

In fact, we completely ignore this feedback, opting instead to take little white pills to quell symptoms and then continue to forge ahead, regardless of the consequences, expecting different results.

As Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Below is an extract from Stress Gone!, outlining the common signs of unhealthy levels of stress:

When exposed to long periods of stress, your body gives warning signals.

Emotional symptoms include:

* Anger, irritability or short temperedness

* Anxious or racing thoughts

* Anxiety or nervousness

* Seeking only the negative

* Crying or sadness

* Poor judgment

* Depression

* Difficulty in making decisions

* Frequent mood swings

* An inability to concentrate

* Negative thinking

* Memory problems

* A sense of loneliness or isolation

* Lack of creativity

* Feeling overwhelmed

* Loss of sense of humour

* Neglecting responsibilities

* Isolating yourself from others

There are also physical symptoms, such as:

* Dizziness, nausea

* Frequent headaches

* Muscle tension

* Impulsive actions

* Difficulty sleeping, insomnia

* Chest pain, rapid heartbeat (racing heart)

* Sleeping too much or too little

* Procrastination

* Sweaty palms

* Nervous habits (nail biting, pacing, etc)

* Using alcohol, drugs and cigarettes to relax

* Weight loss or gain

* Upset stomach, diarrhoea or constipation

* Loss of sex drive

3. When key colleagues (bosses and team members who hold your future in their hands) are the ones creating the most negative stress, what do you do?

Stress shows up as a perceived threat, particularly when one feels inadequate, intimidated, insecure, out of one’s depth or vulnerable.

In any situation, the only thing we all have control over is our own internal framework, including emotions and inner dialogue.

When someone challenges or causes you negative stress, view this as an ideal opportunity to learn and grow from the situation.

First, you need to acknowledge that your reaction is only a perception of the situation.

Second, know you have the power to change your perception. Understandably, you might not realise this at the time.

Third, there are profound exercises and simple techniques to immediately help you release negative stress, emotions and the associated uncomfortable, stressed physical feelings.

4. What are practical solutions for turning negative stress into positive stress?

Immediately make a conscious effort to relax your mind and body. Breathe. A stressed mind is confused, disoriented and cannot think clearly, rationally or linearly.

Conscious breathing and relaxing are essential keys to switching off the stressed sympathetic nervous system.

Every lemon can be turned into lemonade. Your attitude towards stressful situations is key. Every negative situation is an opportunity to learn and grow.

5. Why are you so passionate about helping people understand and manage stress?

Virtually my entire life has been defined by negative stress. I was born a forceps baby, shipped off to boarding school at six years old, had duodenal ulcers around nine to 11 years old, was plagued with constant stomach problems, recurring nightmares, wet my bed etc – all as a result of acute childhood stress.

This resulted in me becoming a frightened child, where I constantly felt under threat, insecure and vulnerable.

This played out into my adult life, where I repeated the learnt negative behavioural patterns, which didn’t serve my highest good.

Following trauma after trauma, I eventually developed adrenal fatigue, candida intolerance, then chronic fatigue syndrome, followed by severe depression.

My body was ridden with Rickettsia and Lyme’s disease (infections spread by ticks). I became so ill, I had to hock my possessions and literally lost everything in the process.

During my darkest days, challenged to the nth degree and hitting rock bottom, life compelled me to face my worst fears.

By doing so, I recognised patterns and decades of stress. I began the cathartic process of working on myself.

The exercises, techniques and strategies shared in Stress Gone! are what helped me turn the corner.

Bridget changed her life by changing her mindset using these tools. You have the same power to manage your stress masterfully.

You can get Bridget’s book Stress Gone! at www.bridget-edwards.com and see the full article there as well.

* This is a shortened version of an interview for The Star.

** Follow Timothy Webster on Twitter @timothymaurice.

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