We,ve come along way in our understanding of the effects of stress on our bodies and our general health. It was only in the early 1970’s that medical science began to acknowledge the link between emotional stress and illness. Stress and health are closely intertwined. It is estimated that three-quarters of all visits to the doctor are related to chronic distress. Researchers now estimate that stress related illnesses account for upwards of 90% of health problems.
What Is Stress?
Stress is a normal physical response to events that make you feel threatened or upset your balance in some way. When you sense danger – whether it’s real or imagined – the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction, or the stress response.
We developed this response long ago as part of our survival as a species.
We no longer need that rush of increased blood pressure and blood flow bringing oxygen to our muscles to deal with a life or death situation. However this reaction is something we have inherited genetically even though it is no longer required in quite the same way.
The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life ie. giving you extra strength to defend yourself, or spurring you to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident. The stress response also helps you rise to meet challenges. Stress is what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration, or drives you to study for an exam when you’d rather be watching TV. But beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, your mood, your productivity, your relationships, and your quality of life.
Big Stress Or Small Stress?
The body doesn’t discriminate between a big stress or a little one. Regardless of how significant the cause may or not be, the body experiences a chain of biochemical reactions to the stress trigger. For most of us we experience numerous of these triggers every day.
So Exactly How Does Stress Affect The Body?
Stress effects can severely disrupt the natural function of many of your body’s systems. The results can be insomnia, emotional and behavioural problems, immune system dysfunction, asthma, ulcers, lack of energy, depression, nervousness. When we are stressed our bodies experience high levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It is often referred to as the stress hormone. The negative effects of cortisol are behind a multitude of health related problems brought on by chronic stress and the body’s response to it.
Stress At Work
Work related stress is something we all experience on different levels and at different times. Ironically when we feel stressed we aren’t able to work at as well. As we become stressed, distractions, difficulties, anxieties and negative thinking begin to crowd our minds. Concentration suffers, and focus narrows as our brain becomes overloaded.
Signs and symptoms of excessive job and workplace stress:
- Feeling anxious, irritable, or depressed
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of sex drive
- Using alcohol or drugs to cope
- Muscle tension or headaches
- Stomach problems
- Apathy, loss of interest in work
- Problems sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
Unfortunately for many of us, the ways we are used to dealing with stressful situations often exacerbate the problem.
So what can we do to deal with life’s challenges in a more positive way?
- Becoming self aware and learning to recognize when you begin to feel pressured or anxious is a good first step. In this way you begin to observe your own reactions and learn which situations tend to trigger this response in you.
- Try not to catastrophise. When you are able to take a step back from the situation try to assess the importance of the event or situation. Is it a life or death situation or is it simply that you’ll be late for an appointment or have a flat tyre? As I noted earlier the body does not differentiate between a big or a small stress.
- Build new habits for healthier ways of coping with stress. The way we react to stituations is usually a habit we have formed over time. We can learn new ways of being.
Stress Busting Tips
- Accept the things you cannot change. Changing a difficult situation is not always possible. If this proves to be the case recognise and accept things as they are.
- Take time out to relax and recharge your batteriesYou will perform much better after a break and easily make up the time you used relaxing.
- Find time to meet friends. Friends can ease work troubles. Friends help us see things in a different way. The activities we engage in with friends usually help us relax and we will often have a good laugh. It boosts the immune system which is often depleted during stress.
- If you do become stressed engage in some form of physical activity. It works off the biochemical and physical changes that occur within your body due to stress.
- Relaxation helps your body return to its normal healthy state. Good relaxation techniques include breathing exercises, massage and a variety of complimentary therapies.
- Try to see things differently. If something is bothering you try to see it differently. Talk over your problem with somebody before it gets out of proportion. Often, talking to somebody else will help you see things from a different and less stressful perspective.
- Avoid alcohol, nicotine and caffeine as coping mechanisms. Long term, these faulty coping mechanisms will just add to the problem.