Stress is something most people have to deal with regularly. A moderate amount can cause alertness, motivation and productivity, but in excess lead to anxiety, depression and even early death. It may come in the form of money worries, having to meet deadlines at work or school, bereavement or dealing with relationship problems.
According to Bupa, it is probably impossible to live without stress. The body’s autonomic nervous system triggers an instant response to feelings of worry or pressure relaid by the brain. This response leads to the release of adrenaline or sugars into the bloodstream and brings about a heightened state, putting the body and mind in best possible stead to perform well in the given challenge. This is not dissimilar to the ’fight or flight’ response, the health expert points out.
However, when stress occurs too frequently and begins to have an detrimental effect on wellbeing, it is time to get help.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of stress vary from person to person and some may find it harder to deal with stressful situations than others. Some common mental symptoms of those suffering from chronic stress include:
- Under- or overeating
- Anger and irritability
- Mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping
- Loss of sex drive
- Turning to drugs, alcohol and cigarettes as a way of coping
Stress can also have physical effects on the body, such as:
- Constant tiredness
- Chest pain, cramps or muscle spasms
- Diarrhoea or constipation
- Dizziness and fainting
- Erectile dysfunction or missed periods
- Breathlessness and sweating
- Feeling sick and vomiting
- Frequent colds and infections
- Skin conditions, such as eczema
Those who experience these symptoms over a long period of time are also at risk of developing high blood pressure, which could lead to much more serious conditions such as heart attack or stroke, the NHS writes. Ongoing stress leaves the body exhausted and thus less efficient in fighting off infections. For this reason, sufferers are much more vulnerable to viruses such as influenza and other diseases. Missing too many periods can cause infertility in women.
Firstly, it is important to identify the underlying cause of stress. Pin-pointing when symptoms are worst and what triggers them will enable the sufferer make positive lifestyle changes in order to tackle the problem.
Counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, anger management and support groups can help bring key issues to the fore and teach the sufferer to deal with difficult feelings without becoming stressed. For those suffering from severe anxiety or depression, it may be necessary to take medication in order to alleviate symptoms.
Depending on the cause, it is also often possible to reduce stress by doing the following:
- Exercising – doing exercise can help release tension. It also produces endorphins (commonly known as happy hormones)
- Sharing worries with friends and family – talking about your problems can take off a lot of pressure. It also gives others a chance to help you deal with them.
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet – the right vitamins and minerals help the body perform its best and lead to a general sense of well-being
- Stopping smoking, drinking in moderation and not taking drugs – tobacco, alcohol and drugs act as depressants and are best avoided