What Is Stress?
Stress is a feeling of being under abnormal pressure, whether it is an increased workload, an argument with a family member or friend or financial worries (this is most common to entrepreneurs)
Stress is how the brain and body respond to any demand. Every type of demand or stressor such as exercise, work, school, major life changes, or traumatic events can be stressful.
Stress can affect your health. It is important to pay attention to how you deal with minor and major stress events so that you know when to seek help.
Things you should know about stress
1. Stress affects everyone
Everyone feels stressed from time to time. Some people may cope with stress more effectively or recover from stressful events more quickly than others. There are different types of stress all of which carry physical and mental health risks. A stressor may be a one time or short term occurrence, or it can be an occurrence that keeps happening over a long period of time.
Examples of stress include:
Routine stress related to the pressures of work, school, family and other daily responsibilities.
Stress brought about by a sudden negative change, such as losing a job, divorce, or illness.
Traumatic stress experienced in an event like a major accident, war, assault, or a natural disaster where people may be in danger of being seriously hurt or killed. People who experience traumatic stress often experience temporary symptoms of mental illness, but most recover naturally soon after.
2. Not all stress is bad
Stress can motivate people to prepare or perform, like when they need to take a test or interview for a new job.
Stress can even be life-saving in some situations. In response to danger, your body prepares to face a threat or flee to safety. In these situations, your pulse quickens, you breathe faster, your muscles tense, your brain uses more oxygen and increases activity all functions aimed at survival.
3. Long-term stress can harm your health.
Health problems can occur if the stress response goes on for too long or becomes chronic, such as when the source of stress is constant, or if the response continues after the danger has subsided. With chronic stress, those same life-saving responses in your body can suppress immune, digestive, sleep, and reproductive systems, which may cause them to stop working normally.
Different people may feel stress in different ways. For example, some people experience mainly digestive symptoms, while others may have headaches, sleeplessness, sadness, anger or irritability. People under chronic stress are prone to more frequent and severe viral infections, such as the flu or common cold.
Routine stress may be the hardest type of stress to notice at first. Because the source of stress tends to be more constant than in cases of acute or traumatic stress, the body gets no clear signal to return to normal functioning. Over time, continued strain on your body from routine stress may contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, as well as mental disorders like depression or anxiety.
During situations that make you feel threatened or upset, your body creates a stress response. This can cause a variety of physical symptoms, change the way you behave, and lead you to experience more intense emotions.
Physical Symptoms Of Stress
People react differently to stress. Some common symptoms of stress include sleeping problems, sweating or a change in appetite. Symptoms like these are triggered by a rush of stress hormones in your body which, when released, allow you to deal with pressures or threats. This is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. Hormones called adrenaline and noradrenaline raise your blood pressure, increase your heart rate and increase the rate at which you perspire. This prepares your body for an emergency response. These hormones can also reduce blood flow to your skin and reduce your stomach activity. Cortisol, another stress hormone, releases fat and sugar into your system to boost your energy.
As a result, you may experience headaches, muscle tension, pain, nausea, indigestion and dizziness. You may also breathe more quickly, have palpitations or suffer from various aches and pains. In the long-term, you may be putting yourself at risk from heart attacks and stroke. All these changes are your body’s way of making it easier for you to fight or run away and once the pressure or threat has passed, your stress hormone levels will usually return to normal. However, if you’re constantly under stress, these hormones remain in your body, leading to the symptoms of stress. If you’re stuck in a busy office or on an overcrowded train, you can’t fight or run away, so you can’t use up the chemicals your own body makes to protect you. Over time, the build-up of these chemicals and the changes they produce can be damaging for your health.
Behavioural And Emotional Effects Of Stress
When you are stressed you may experience many different feelings, including anxiety, irritability or low self-esteem, which can lead to becoming withdrawn, indecisive and tearful.
You may experience periods of constant worry, racing thoughts, or repeatedly go over the same things in your head. Some people experience changes in their behaviour. They may lose their temper more easily, act irrationally or become more verbally or physically aggressive. These feelings can feed on each other and produce physical symptoms, which can make you feel even worse. For example, extreme anxiety can make you feel so unwell, that you then worry you have a serious physical condition.
Identifying The Signs Of Stress
Everyone experiences stress. However, when it is affecting your life, health and wellbeing, it is important to tackle it as soon as possible.
While stress affects everyone differently, there are common signs and symptoms you can look out for feelings of constant worry or anxiety feelings of being overwhelmed difficulty concentrating mood swings or changes in your mood, irritability or having a short temper, difficulty relaxing, depression, low self-esteem, eating more or less than usual, changes in your sleeping habits, using alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs to relax aches and pains, particularly muscle tension, diarrhoea and constipation feelings of nausea or dizziness, loss of sex drive.
If you are experiencing these symptoms for a prolonged period, and feel they are affecting your everyday life or are making you feel unwell, you should speak to your health professional . You should ask for information about the support services and treatments available to you.
Steps To Take When Feeling Stressed
1. Realise when it is causing you a problem
You need to make the connection between feeling tired or ill, with the pressures you are faced with. Do not ignore physical warnings such as tense muscles, over-tiredness, headaches or migraines.
2. Identify the causes
Try to identify the underlying causes. Sort the possible reasons for your stress into those with a practical solution, those that will get better anyway given time, and those you can’t do anything about. Try to let go of those in the second and third groups, there is no point in worrying about things you can’t change or things that will sort themselves out.
3. Review your lifestyle
Are you taking on too much? Are there things you are doing which could be handed over to someone else? Can you do things in a more leisurely way? You may need to prioritise things you are trying to achieve and reorganise your life so that you are not trying to do everything at once.
Seven Steps To Help Protect Yourself From Stress
1. Eat healthily
A healthy diet will reduce the risks of diet- related diseases. Also, there is a growing amount of evidence showing how food affects our mood. Feelings of wellbeing can be protected by ensuring that our diet provides adequate amounts of brain nutrients such as essential vitamins and minerals, as well as water.
2. Be aware of your smoking and drinking
Even though they may seem to reduce tension, this is misleading as they often make problems worse.
Physical exercise can be very effective in relieving stress. Even going out to get some fresh air and taking some light physical exercise, like walking to the shops, can help.
4. Take time out
Take time to relax. Saying ‘I just can’t take the time off’ is no use if you are forced to take time off later through ill health. Striking a balance between responsibility to others and responsibility to yourself is vital in reducing stress levels.
5. Be mindful
Mindfulness meditation can be practiced anywhere at any time. Research has suggested that it can reduce the effects of stress, anxiety and related problems such as insomnia, poor concentration and low moods, in some people.
6. Get some restful sleep
Sleeping problems are common when you’re
stressed. Try to ensure you get enough rest.
7. Don’t be too hard on yourself
Try to keep things in perspective. After all, we all have bad days.
Written By: Sideeq Uswah (Bsc Medical Physiology).