Dr Zana Marovic, Phd

Clinical Psychologist, Johannesburg

Stress Management & Wellness

Stress Management & Wellness

When you perceive a threat, your autonomic nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. The fight or flight (stress) response is a function of the sympathetic system, which is a part of our autonomic nervous system. The result is that your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed your reaction time, and enhance your focus – preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand. After the stress response it is important for your body to get back to balance by switching the parasympathetic system, which is is the branch of the autonomic nervous system responsible for the body’s ability to recuperate and relax after experiencing stress. Parasympathetic system slows down heart rate and breathing, lowers blood pressure, activates digestion, and stores energy.

Unfortunately, modern living and pressures means that for many people the sympathetic nervous system remains in a heightened state of alertness with the parasympathetic nervous system unable to do its job. People who experience anxiety and pannic attacks are people whose sympathetic nervous systems is overstimulated and in heightened state of arousal where even a slightly stressing event can cause them to move into the fight or flight response.


Stress effects & causes

If you have a lot of responsibilities and worries, your emergency stress response may be “on” most of the time. Long-term exposure to stress and overactive sympathetic system can lead to serious health problems such as: raised blood pressure, suppressed immune system, digestive problems, increased risk of heart attack and stroke, infertility, and speeding up the aging process, depression and anxiety, obesity, etc.

The potential causes of stress are numerous and highly individual. What causes stress depends, at least in part, on your perception of it. Something that’s stressful to you may not faze someone else; they may even enjoy it. For example, your morning commute may make you anxious and tense because you worry that traffic will make you late. Others, however, may find the trip relaxing because they allow more than enough time and enjoy listening to music while they drive.

Time pressure

Time pressure is one of those sources of stress that builds up without you noticing. Then, before you know it, you’re measuring everything against the clock: how long the next meal will take, whether you can afford to be having this conversation, etc etc. Our bodies are not made to be constantly rushing. The ‘rushed factor’ – that chronic feeling of time pressure – adds to the risk of increased blood pressure and heart disease and possibly even certain forms of cancer. This struggle with time also has psychological consequences and can cause chronic anger, depression, bitterness, resentment and even sudden hopelessness.

Common external causes of stress: Major life changes ; Work; Relationship difficulties; Financial problems; Being too busy; Children and family.

Common internal causes of stress: Inability to accept uncertainty; Pessimism & negative self-talk; Unrealistic expectations & perfectionism.

Responses to stress overload

Let’s use a driving analogy to describe the three most common ways people respond when they’re overwhelmed by stress:

  • Foot on the gas – An angry or agitated stress response. You’re heated, keyed up, overly emotional, and unable to sit still.
  • Foot on the brake – A withdrawn or depressed stress response. You shut down, space out, and show very little energy or emotion.
  • Foot on both – A tense and frozen stress response. You “freeze” under pressure and can’t do anything. You look paralyzed, but under the surface you’re extremely agitated.


Mental or emotional health refers to your overall psychological well-being. It includes the way you feel about yourself, the quality of your relationships, and your ability to manage your feelings and deal with difficulties.

Good mental health isn’t just the absence of mental health problems. Being mentally or emotionally healthy is much more than being free of depression, anxiety, or other psychological issues. Rather than the absence of mental illness, mental and emotional health refers to the presence of positive characteristics.

Stress management tips:

Get enough rest. To have good mental and emotional health, it’s important to take care of your body. Most people need seven to eight hours of sleep each night in order to function optimally.

Learn about good nutrition and practice it. The more you learn about what you eat and how it affects our energy and mood, the better you can feel.

Exercise to relieve stress and lift your mood. Exercise is a powerful antidote to stress, anxiety, and depression. To get the most mental health benefits, aim for 30 minutes or more of exercise per day.

Get a dose of sunlight every day. Sunlight lifts your mood, so try to get at least 10 to 15 minutes of sun per day while exercising, gardening, or socializing.

Limit alcohol, avoid cigarettes and other drugs.


Holistic Retreat

Holistic retreat is not just an opportunity for improving your stress-managment skills but for self-growth, rejuvenation & consciousness expansion. Retreat takes you inside of yourself and helps you regain a balance between head, heart, body and soul by using a selection of exercises and modalities such as: gentle yoga postures, breathing, relaxation, chakra balancing, meditation, positive psychology exercises, stress-management techniques and other self-discovery techniques. For more information click on “Services” and check page on holisitc retreat “Positive Living”.


Yoga for stress management

Dating back over 5000 years, yoga is the oldest defined practice of self-development. Yoga brings together the mind, body, and spirit. Through regular practice of yoga, breathing exercises, and meditation one can greatly reduce stress through stimulating the relaxation response of the parasympathetic system and minimizing the sympathetic stress response.

  • Abdominal breathing exercises. The abdominal yogic breath is one of the most potent relaxation tools. You can use your bed or floor to lie on your back with arms and legs apart. If you have back problem place a pillow under your knees. Start by observing your natural breath for ten rounds (one round is one inhalation and one exhalation).  You will notice that as you inhale the abdomen rises and and as you exhale it falls. After ten rounds of following natural breath begin to count the length of each inhalation and exhalation. You should be able to count to three with each inhalation and exhalation. Do ten rounds counting length of three counts and then extend the count to four for both, inhaling and exhaling. Keep the count for inhalation and exhalation the same. Let the abdomen rise slowly as you inhale and at exhalation let it fall completely. During this entire process the only movement should be in the abdomen, and not in the chest area. Continue count of four for 10 rounds and then rest. As you practice abdominal breath on a regular base you should be able to extend the length of your breath one count each two weeks of practice. The slower the breath and the longer the count – the more relaxed you going to feel. Abdominal breathing is very useful for stress reduction, anxiety and sleeping difficulties.

Virtually everyone can see physical benefits from yoga, and its practice can also give psychological benefits, such as stress reduction and a sense of well-being, and spiritual benefits, such as a feeling of connectedness or a feeling of transcendence. Other benefits include:

  • reduced stress
  • sound sleep
  • reduced cortisol levels
  • improvement of many medical conditions
  • allergy and asthma symptom relief
  • lower blood pressure
  • lower heart rate
  • spiritual growth
  • sense of well-being
  • reduced anxiety and muscle tension
  • increased strength and flexibility
  • slowed aging process.

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