“I feel stressed because I am overworked.”
“My children are demanding, I don’t have any free time for me and I feel so overwhelmed.”
How many times have we heard, thought or said sentences like those?
Stress, in the common sense, is a feeling that people have when they feel overloaded.
But scientifically, stress has a completely different meaning.
Stress is the body’s natural defence against predators and danger. It flushes the body with hormones to prepare systems to evade or confront danger. This is known as the “fight-or-flight” mechanism.
When we are faced with a challenge, part of our response is physical. The body activates resources to protect us, such as the production of larger quantities of the chemicals cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline, secreted by adrenal gland and mediated by hypophysis.
Changes to the body
And what are the consequences of those hormones in our blood?
We have a very effective reaction:
- blood pressure and pulse rate rise
- breathing is faster
- the digestive system slows down
- immune activity decreases
- the muscles become tense
- a heightened state of alertness prevents sleep
As we can see, it involves several body’s organs and can reveal itself as a useful reaction in everyday life.
Some experiences that are generally considered positive can lead to stress, such as having a baby, going on a trip, moving to a nicer house, and being promoted. This is because they often involve a major change, extra effort, new responsibilities, and a need for adaptation. They are also steps into the unknown.
The process that leads to feel stressed is very complicated, it involves several disciplines, as immunology, neurology, psychology and endocrinology.
Although every person reacts differently to experiences, there are common causes that people go through, and most of the times lead to a stress reaction:
- job issues or retirement
- lack of time or money
- family problems
- moving home
- relationships, marriage, and divorce
Past experience, predisposition and ongoing mental health issues (depression, anxiety, and others) can impact negatively on how a person will react.
Moreover, there are many types of stress: acute, chronic, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but we will talk about this in future.
We can sort out the symptoms in 3 groups.
Main physical effects:
- pain in the back or chest
- cramps or muscle spasms
- erectile dysfunction and loss of libido
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- lower immunity against diseases
- muscular aches
- nervous twitches
- pins and needles
- sleeping difficulties
- stomach upset
- concentration issues
- a feeling of insecurity
- nail biting
- food cravings and eating too much or too little
- sudden angry outbursts
- drug and alcohol abuse
- higher tobacco consumption
- social withdrawal
- frequent crying
- relationship problems
Treatment and management
There is no unique treatment in stress, because is not considered a disease, but more a condition derived from all the factors stated above; moreover, is subjective.
What we can work on is the management of the stress, improving our lifestyle and changing some bad habits that influence our stress outcome level.
Exercise: Studies have shown that exercise can benefit a person’s mental and physical state.
Reducing intake of alcohol, drugs, and caffeine: These substances will not help prevent stress, and they can make it worse. They should be cut out or reduced.
Nutrition: A healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables helps maintain the immune system at times of stress. A poor diet will lead to ill health and additional stress.
Sleep: although is underestimated, sleep well and for a good amount of hours can improve our stress levels.
Prioritizing: Spend a little time organizing your to-do list to see what is most important. Then focus of what you have completed or accomplished for the day, rather than what you are yet to finish.
Time: Set aside some time each day just for yourself. Use it to organize your life, relax, and pursue your own interests.
Breathing and relaxation: Meditation, massage, and yoga can help. Breathing and relaxation techniques can slow down the system and help you relax.
Talking: Talking to family, friends, work colleagues, and your boss about your thoughts and worries will help you “let off steam.” You may be comforted to find that you are “not the only one.” You may even find there is an easy solution that you had not thought of.
Acknowledging the signs: A person can be so anxious about the problem that is causing the stress that they do not notice the effects on their body. Noticing symptoms is the first step to taking action.
Find your own destressor: Most people have something that helps them relax, such as reading a book, going for a walk, listening to music, or spending time with a friend or a pet. Joining a choir or a gym helps some people.
Establishing support networks: For example, by talking to neighbours and others in the local community, or joining a club, charity, or religious organization.
Start a medical/psychological therapy: If the stress is affecting your daily life, you should seek professional help. A doctor or psychiatric specialist can often help, for example, through stress management training.
We will discuss some of those management strategies during our training together in Lifestyle movement.
Stress is a powerful mixture of events that can help us in particular situations, but can also drug us down if is persistent and influences negatively our days.
We will examine every aspect of this world weekly, with the purpose to improve our stress level day by day.
Goodnite PM. Stress: a concept analysis. Nurs Forum. 2014 Jan-Mar;49(1):71-4. doi: 10.1111/nuf.12044. Epub 2013 Jul 8.
Adam Felman, Timothy J. Legg, Ph.D., CRNP, Why stress happens and how to manage it, November 28, 2017