Stress is almost unavoidable in today’s fast paced world, therefore how we manage and cope with stress plays a large role in quality of our health. You may notice symptoms of stress during busy times at work, when managing your finances or when dealing with a challenging relationship whether it be personal or professional. While a little stress can actually be beneficial to help us stay motivated, rise to a challenge or slam on the breaks to avoid hitting the car in front of you., too much stress can drain you both mentally and physically and ultimately making you sick.
So, what exactly is stress?
Stress is the body’s reaction to situations we perceive as harmful, whether they’re real or perceived. When you feel threatened, a chemical reaction occurs in your body that allows you to act in a way to prevent injury. This reaction is known as “fight-or-flight,” or the stress response. During the stress response, your heart rate increases, breathing quickens, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises and you release the stress hormone, cortisol. Your body is now ready to act.
Stress means different things to different people. What causes stress in one person may be of little concern to another. Some people are better able to handle stress than others. Our bodies are designed to handle small doses of stress. But, we are not equipped to handle long-term, chronic stress without suffering ill consequences.
The first step to controlling stress is to recognise the symptoms of stress. But recognizing stress symptoms may be harder than you think. Most of us are so used to being stressed, we often don’t know we are stressed until we are at the breaking point. Stress can affect all aspects of your life, including your emotions, behaviours, thinking ability and physical health. No part of the body is immune. But, because people handle stress differently, symptoms of stress can vary. Symptoms can be vague and may be the same as those caused by other medical conditions. So, it is important to discuss them with your doctor.
Emotional symptoms of stress include becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody, feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control, having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind, feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless and depressed and a tendency of avoiding others
Physical symptoms of stress include low energy, headaches, upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea, aches, pains and tense muscles, chest pain and rapid heartbeat, insomnia, frequent colds and infections, loss of sexual desire and/or ability, nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear, cold or sweaty hands and feet, dry mouth and difficulty swallowing and a clenched jaw and grinding teeth.
Cognitive symptoms of stress include constant worrying, racing thoughts, forgetfulness and disorganization, inability to focus, poor judgment, being pessimistic and seeing only the negative side of things.
Behavioural symptoms of stress include changes in appetite, either not eating at all or eating too much, procrastinating or avoiding responsibilities, increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes, exhibiting more nervous behaviours, such as nail biting, fidgeting, and pacing and other eating disorders such as bulimia.
So, what are the consequences of long term stress?
A little stress every now and then is not something to be concerned about. Ongoing, chronic stress, however, can cause or exacerbate many serious health problems, including mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and personality disorders, cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, obesity and other eating disorders, sexual dysfunction, skin and hair problems, such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema, and permanent hair loss
Stress is a part of life, so what matters most is how you handle it.
The best thing you can do to prevent stress overload and the health consequences that come with it is to know your stress symptoms. Meditation and mindfulness is a practice that can help you deal with high levels of stress, however sometimes more help is needed.
If you or a loved one is feeling overwhelmed by stress, talk to your doctor. Many symptoms of stress can also be signs of other health problems. Your doctor can evaluate your symptoms and rule out other conditions. If stress is to blame, your doctor can recommend a therapist or counsellor to help you better handle your stress.