Stress - What it is and How to Beat it!
Stress - Symptoms and How it Affects your Health
Vitality to us is great physical and mental health and how that shows in your body.
Think of being alive and full of energy and well-being. Who do you know that has vitality?
When we think of someone like this it’s always in a positive light and they seem to have an underlying force of energy…and dare we say it…little or no stress in their lives or a way of dealing with it that prevents them falling into the cycle.
This article describes the huge impact stress has on lives and lists five major findings including how the impact is reduced in people who have high self-esteem, self-control and social support networks.(1)
General health and vitality shows in -
- Our ability to manage stress
- Reduced susceptibility to low mood or depression
- Healthy skin, hair and nails
- Good weight management
- Restful, productive sleep
- Resistance to illnesses and disease
Arguably, one of the most detrimental effects which prevents people achieving vitality is stress.
It really can be a vicious cycle (see info-graphic) where the ability to achieve long term physical or mental health and fitness becomes hampered by negative patterns we fall into when living with constant stress. An article in The Annual Review of Clinical Psychology explores the devastating impact long term stress can have on health. (2)
Some people react much better under stress than others and some appear less able to deal and cope with the effects. The patterns that we adopt make it more and more difficult to cope with these and it can launch a downward spiral making it harder and harder to break free of the stress cycle.
We all have ‘in built’ mechanisms that enable us to deal with short periods of stress but different people seem to have different thresholds or resistance. Some submit to the cycle and display symptoms much earlier than others. It’s also clear that its continued influence lessens an individual’s ability to resist falling into the cycle. It’s vitally important for the body to be able to revert to a normal ‘resting’ state and have long periods without stress.
So what is Stress?
Stress is our body’s way of reacting to something that might challenge it (a stressor.)
This can be mental, emotional or physical. As humans we are designed to react to something which might threaten us and this induces a ‘fight or flight’ mechanism.
What is the ‘Fight or Flight’ process?
When faced with danger the hypothalamus gland in our brain triggers an alarm which in turn stimulates the pituitary gland which then stimulates the adrenal glands in our kidneys to flood the body with the hormone cortisol. The effects on our body are elevated heart rate, blood pressure and a surge of sugar and energy. As this process occurs our senses become heightened which can induce fear and also stimulate action to remove ourselves from the situation.
This process usually ‘switches on or off’ as required but if the stressors (which may be perceived or real) are continuously present then we begin to suffer negative effects from being constantly exposed to hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This turns a positive benefit of self-preservation into one which has negative consequences for body. An article in PNAS argues that long term exposure to stress interferes with the inflammatory process and reduces the body’s ability to fight an infection. (3)
When our body is functioning to the best of its abilities (and this can include short periods of stress which actively help us to perform better and achieve good results i.e. competitive sports) we generally thrive.
What are common stress-triggers?
- Relationship problems-divorce
- Workplace pressures
- Money worries
- Illness of self or a family member/friend
- Social Isolation
Why are some more prone to negative stress reaction?
- Genetic predisposition
- Previous life experiences (post traumatic)
What can I do to break the stress cycle?
- Maintain a healthy diet incorporating complex proteins, carbohydrate, ‘rainbow foods’ nuts, seeds and plenty of water
- Exercise regularly and vary it so you don’t get bored
- Get plenty of good quality sleep-turn off TV and smart devices an hour before retiring. Don’t take work to bed.
- Manage time effectively and prioritise activities
- Pay attention to stress triggers and adopt mechanisms to cope with them. It may help to keep a diary for a couple of weeks rating episodes of stress, people involved or causes and your reactions. Rate with a scale of 1-10.
- Get counselling or therapy if needed or talk things over with someone you can trust. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy may help as it focuses on the relationship between thoughts, feelings and beliefs and how we behave or react in relation to them
- Try to develop a positive mental attitude. See your GP for local stress management /emotional support groups. Consider asking your employer for help
- Take up meditation and or yoga and practice relaxation techniques
- Complementary therapies such as massage or aromatherapy might help
- Accept your limitations, say no when appropriate and try to avoid situations that are stressful to you
- Make time for leisure activities every week
- Read a self-help book or listen to CDs
- An appropriate supplement for diet and or mood such as organic CBD oil may be beneficial
- Thoits P, (2010) “Stress and Health, Major Policy Implications” 51(1) 41-53: Journal of Health and Social Behaviour
- Schneiderman N, et al “Stress and Health: Psychological, Behavioural and Biological Determinants” (1 ) 607-628: Annual Review of Clinical Psychology
- Cohen S, et al (2012) “Chronic Stress, glucocorticoid recSeptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk,” 109 (16) 5995-5999 : PNA