Stress - The facts about it and some preventative measures

Stress is a normal part of everyday life. You can experience stress from your environment, your body or from your thoughts.

So let’s first look at what is stress and what impact it has on our body from a physiological stand point. When the body goes through any changes, it can have physical, mental or emotional response.

Stress occurs when you perceive that demands placed on you, such as work, school or relationships exceed your ability to cope. Some stress can be beneficial at times, producing a boost that provides the drive and energy to help people get through situations like exams or work deadlines. However, an extreme amount of stress can have health consequences.

The body's autonomic nervous system has a built-in stress response that causes physiological changes to allow the body to combat stressful situations. This stress response, also known as the fight or flight response is activated in case of an emergency. However, this response can become chronically activated during prolonged periods of stress. Prolonged activation of the stress response causes wear and tear on the body – both physical and emotional!

The fight-or-flight response, also known as the acute stress response, refers to a physiological reaction that occurs in the presence of something that is terrifying, either mentally or physically. The response is triggered by the release of hormones that prepare your body to either stay and deal with a threat or to run away to safety. This stimulates the adrenal glands triggering the release of catecholamine, which include adrenaline and noradrenaline. This results in an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.

What if the stress continues?

If the stress continues without relief can lead to a condition called distress – a negative stress reaction. Distress can disturb the body's internal balance or equilibrium, leading to physical symptoms such as; headaches, an upset stomach elevated blood pressure, chest pain, sexual dysfunction, and problems sleeping. Emotional problems can also result from distress. These problems include depression, panic attacks, or other forms of anxiety and worry. Stress is linked to 6 of the leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.

What are the warning signs of stress?

Chronic stress can wear down the body's natural defenses, leading to a variety of physical symptoms, including the following:

  • Dizziness

  • Aches and pains.

  • Grinding teeth, clenched jaw.

  • Headaches.

  • indigestion or acid reflux symptoms

  • Increase in or loss of appetite.

  • Muscle tension in neck, face or shoulders.

  • Problems sleeping

  • Racing heart.

  • Cold and sweaty palms.

  • Tiredness, exhaustion.

  • Trembling/shaking.

  • Weight gain or loss.

  • Upset stomach, diarrhoea

  • Sexual difficulties.

Preventative Measures

So now we know what stress is and the impact it can have on the body, let us talk about how exactly we can manage stress within our lives. These methods are a great way to help with the prevention of stress, but also in times when you are, feeling stressed.

Exercise regularly – regular exercise is a great way to manage stress. You should do some form of exercise that causes you to feel puffed afterwards. Have at least 20 minutes of exercise three times a week

Relax – give yourself some time to relax each day and try to spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself

Eat well – a nutritious diet is important. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and simple sugars and fatty foods

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) -  CBT is based on the idea that changing unhealthy thinking can change your emotions. A CBT therapist will help you identify negative thinking and learn to automatically replace it with healthy or positive thoughts.

Sleep – a good sleep routine is essential. If you have difficulty falling asleep, do something calm and relaxing before you go to bed like listening to music or reading.

Take a step back and observe the situation - Feeling stressed is a natural reaction, but try to take a step back and ask yourself - Will this issue still matter in a year? In five years? If the answer is no, take a deep breath and try to move forward. Keeping things in perspective is crucial to managing stress.

Smile and laugh - Our brains are interconnected with our emotions and facial expressions. When people are stressed, they often hold a lot of the stress in their face. Laughing or smiling can help relieve some of that tension and improve the situation.

Enjoy your life – it’s important to make time to have some fun and to get a balance in your life. Find things which you enjoy doing and do more of it!

Meditate. - Meditation and mindful prayer help the mind and body to relax and focus. Mindfulness can help people see new perspectives, develop self-compassion and forgiveness. When practicing a form of mindfulness, people can release emotions that may have been causing the body physical stress. Much like exercise, research has shown that even meditating briefly can reap immediate benefits.