There are two types of stress, quite simply, good and bad stress!
Examples of good stress are reactions to exciting events such as planning a wedding, landing your dream job, buying your first home or having a baby.
Examples of bad stress are when you feel out of control, perhaps having lost your job, being diagnosed with an illness or a relationship breakdown.
Stress is also an automatic response by our body as a means of protection. Remember the phrase ‘fight or flight’?
When a trigger arises, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) goes into fight or flight mode prompting you to take action to protect yourself and avoid danger. This is a good thing – your body is doing its job. Perfect for if you’re being chased by an aggressive dog!
The problem is that your body cannot distinguish between an emergency stress (the aggressive dog) and constant everyday stress (work pressure). The damage happens when this constant stress builds up and your body begins to burn out.
Common effects of stress on your body
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Increased cholesterol
- Muscle tension or pain
- Lower bone density
- Chest pain
- Loss of libido
- Stomach upset/cramps
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain/increased fat storage
- Lack of energy
- Low immune system / reduced ability to recover from illness
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Low sperm production
Common effects of stress on your mood
- Lack of motivation or focus
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Irritability or anger
- Sadness or depression
Common effects of stress on your behaviour
- Overeating or undereating
- Comfort eating
- Angry outbursts
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Social withdrawal
- Little to no exercise
HOW DOES IT WORK?
There are 3 stages to the stress response:
When your body goes into a state of panic your SNS is activated to protect you from the stress. Your brain triggers the release of stress hormones – cortisol and adrenalin. The rest of your body is alerted and now has the necessary fuel to react to the panic.
As stress levels increase, so does your pulse, blood pressure, blood sugars, blood fats, respiration, sweating and pupil dilation.
THE ADAPTIVE/RESISTANCE STAGE
After stage 1, your body will attempt to return to its stable state (homeostasis). However if your reaction is too strong or too frequently triggered, your body remains on high alert. Subsequently your body builds up a resistance and learns to live with continual stresses but in doing so continues to release unnatural levels of the stress hormones to cope. Extended release of these hormones is what leads to the effects stated above.
THE EXHAUSTION STAGE
Finally, after a sustained period of being in this high alert state, not being able to return to stable state, your emergency resources become depleted and your body begins to shut down. Think city stock brokers! This is the final burnout stage when your body is telling you it simply cannot cope with being on high alert any longer.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
So we know that he sympathetic nervous system (SNS) turns on the ‘fight or flight’ response. It’s opposite is the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which turns off the SNS and helps the body to rest and conserve energy. So the ability to appropriately go from one state to the other is essential for your wellbeing.
Unfortunately this doesn’t always happen as quickly as it needs to due to the continual stresses of modern life. It’s unrealistic to take away all the stresses – we can’t simply repair a marriage overnight or magic enough money to pay the bills, so we need to have tools and techniques to manage the stresses until they are resolved.
Below are some techniques that are all effective in managing stress (there are more). However you need to make your chosen ones a priority. You can’t just say you’ll do them when you have time. If you don’t manage your stress right now, you may run out of time!
- Schedule/plan your time
- Declutter your office and home
- Create a designated calm area for a relaxation activity
- Yoga / tai-chi or other exercise
- Meditation / Breathing exercises
- Delegate work / household chores
- Learn to say no if you are being ‘put upon’
- Regular massage
- Practice gratitude
- Plan time to socialise/fun activities/hobbies
- Listen to music / read
- Get adequate sleep
- Limit caffeine
- Eat healthily, avoiding sugar (stress encourages comfort eating)
ELIMINATING EXCESSIVE STRESS
The techniques above are great at managing stressful periods in your life, but ultimately if there are areas that are causing ongoing stress, it may be that you need to resolve the underlying issue.
Maybe you have experienced serious conflict with a family member and you are bottling up emotions, or you’re seriously unhappy with your job or your relationship isn’t working out. These are major areas in your life that cannot go unresolved without suffering negative consequences to your health. I’m not saying it will be easy, but recognising and acknowledging the problem is the first step towards creating change.
The effects of stress can ultimately lead to chronic disease including cancer and heart disease so please take it seriously.
If any of this resonates with you and you’d like to take advantage of my free 1 hour consultation (in person/Skype or phone), please get in touch.
I’d also like to hear from you if you’ve suffered the negative effects of stress or perhaps you have some of your own techniques to manage it.
Warning: Listen to your body and be sure to recognise if the signs are more than stress symptoms: chest pain, especially if it occurs during physical activity or is accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, nausea, or pain radiating into your shoulder and arm, get emergency help immediately. These may be warning signs of a heart attack and not simply stress symptoms.