Feeling stressed is a normal human response, and an important one at that.
If it wasn’t for our stress response, it’s likely the human race may never have survived at all.
Our bodies are designed to react to events which we perceive to be harmful, or a threat to our survival, in what’s commonly called the “fight or flight response.”
The body responds by releasing a cascade of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol which cause a surge in energy and prepare us to “fight.”
Now, if you’re Carrie Mathison, for example, your fight or flight response is pretty essential for your everyday survival. However, it’s safe to say, most of us aren’t single handedly fighting a war on terrorism, and our daily threats are more likely to involve a deadline that’s creeping ever closer, or an argument with a colleague.
These are important, sure, but they’re not life- threatening. If we continue to respond as if they are, our health can begin to deteriorate.
Everyone responds differently to stress; some people thrive on it and are able to use if their advantage, where as others become stressed at the smallest things, causing it to have a huge impact on their everyday life.
ARE YOU TOO STRESSED?
There are various signs to look out for which may show that stress is impacting on your health:
SLEEP: Difficulty falling asleep or finding your sleep is disrupted, often because your worrying about something.
MOOD: Being more irritable and snappy, or more tearful and emotional than you’d usually be in a given situation.
CONCENTRATION: Reduced concentration. You may have noticed you can’t concentrate on a TV programme or read a book because you’re worrying. It may even be impacting on your work performance.
APPETITE: Many people lose their appetite when they’re stressed or find foods don’t taste the same. Others (me included) feel more hungry when they’re stressed and can be prone to binge eating.
FEELING TENSE: The hormones released in the fight or flight response can cause physical symptoms as well, such as nausea, sweating, palpitations, dry mouth and the typical feeling of butterflies in the stomach. If you’re stressed a lot, it can lead to headaches and muscles aches and pains too.
LIFESTYLE CHANGES: Often when people are stressed they make unhealthier choices to help manage it, such as drinking more alcohol or smoking more than normal.
IS STRESS HARMFUL?
As I mentioned above, stress affects everyone differently, however, people’s response to a stressful situation can really vary. Some people feel stressed very easily, while others can function well and even thrive in stressful situations.
Because the feeling of stress is quite subjective it’s hard to prove what the long term affects are.
It’s thought, however, to increase your risk of heart disease in later years as well as having an impact on your everyday health:
Stress is linked to symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, and even skin conditions such as psoriasis. It can also have a huge impact on your mental health.
Ongoing stress can affect your self-esteem, work performance, relationships and mood, so it’s really important not to ignore it.
HOW CAN YOU COMBAT STRESS?
It’s impossible to completely eliminate stress from your life; it’s a normal human response after all.
I know exactly what makes me stressed in my everyday life:
- Sitting in traffic, worrying that I’m going to be late for work.
- Running behind time in my clinics, knowing that patients will be kept waiting.
- Having an accumulation of paperwork.
- Not exercising.
- Not having food in the house for dinner
- Trying to keep the house clean and tidy.
I’ve learnt the hard way how important it is to manage your stress levels, and had to make some changes to prevent it from becoming a problem:
I go into work early to avoid traffic, which allows me to get a gym session in. I have a “catch-up” slot in the middle of my clinic to help me run on time, and I make sure I’ve done all my paperwork before I leave work on Friday so it’s not hanging over me. I’m still rubbish at keeping the fridge well stocked- it’s a work in progress! Oh, and this week I got a cleaner 🙂
In future posts, I’m going to be discussing how to manage stress in the workplace, whilst Bex is going to give you some advice on relaxation and meditation techniques to help manage stress, but here are a few tips to keep you going in the meantime:
WRITE A STRESS LIST
Over a week or so, make a note of things that you find to be particularly stressful, it may well become obvious what your biggest stresses are.
Like you’ve seen with me, often it can be an accumulation of little things that make you stressed, and small changes can make a big difference.
Talk to your friends and family too – they’re likely to know what makes you stressed, so take advice from them.
Once you’ve got a better idea of what’s stressing you out, you can start making small changes to help combat your stress!
HAVE REGULAR BREAKS
I know this is easier said than done for many people, but scheduling regular breaks into your diary can stop stress accumulating.
Try and scatter your annual leave throughout the year so you have a few long weekends to look forward to rather than just one big holiday a year.
TAKE TIME OUT DAILY
Whether it’s a quick stroll at lunchtime or a bath at night, taking some timeout from your work or home-life can help clear your head and give you some perspective on a stressful situation.
Whether it’s lifting weights, letting go in a Zumba class or hitting the trails, exercise is a great stress reliever. It releases endorphins (hello, happy hormones) and will leave you feeling refreshed and motivated.
Find something that you enjoy and try and do it a couple of times a week.
WATCH THE BOOZE
I’m just as guilty as the next person when it comes to using alcohol as a stress reliever. Sometimes a glass of wine after work can be exactly what you need, and that’s fine if it’s just every now and again.
If you’re reaching for the wine glass every night, or find that you need a drink to help you relax, you could be developing an unhealthy habit with alcohol, which is the last thing you need!
If you’re worried that you’re too stressed and it’s controlling your life, then please see your GP.
Stress can be closely related to anxiety and depression which can often be helped with talking therapies and medication, so make sure you get help early!
WHAT MAKES YOU STRESSED AND HOW DO YOU MANAGE IT?
IT WOULD BE GREAT TO SHARE SOME IDEAS, SO PLEASE FEEL FREE TO COMMENT BELOW AND WATCH OUT FOR MORE STRESS RELATED ARTICLES COMING SOON!