Stress means different things to different people, and it sometimes seems that the people around us know when we’re suffering from it before we do! We need to have a certain level of stress in our lives as it inspires us to move ahead, to accomplish tasks and motivates us to action. The trick is learning how to make stress work for you rather than against you.
Physical symptoms of stress may include:
Digestive changes, such as becoming more prone to diarrhoea or constipation
Neck or backache
Loss of appetite or overeating
Increased use of tobacco or alcohol
Muscle twitches or spasms
Psychological symptoms may include:
Tension or anxiety
Lack of concentration
Feelings of cynicism
If stress continues over a long period without being addressed, we become more likely to develop health problems such as ulcers, fatigue, skin diseases and recurrent infection.
When we feel intense stress or fear, a hormone called adrenalin is secreted from the adrenal glands, which are situated above the kidneys. Our heart beats faster, our blood pressure rises, and our muscles tense up. At the same time, our breathing quickens, and the blood sugar levels rise to provide us with instant energy. This is what is known as the “fight or flight” response, and signals that our body perceives danger and is getting ready to deal with it.
The problem is that in our modern lives, factors such as job pressures and emotional ups and downs sometimes cause us to live in a state of stress for long periods.
Everyone reacts to stress differently and has a different tolerance level. The way that stress manifests in your body depends on your genetic make-up, diet and exercise routine, and physical surroundings.
B group vitamins are of benefit in times of stress when B group vitamins and vitamin C are depleted. For best results choose one with added magnesium which assists in muscle relaxation
Herbs traditionally used for their sedative actions, such as valerian, passion flower and hops may also provide relief of nervous tension, stress and mild anxiety. When taken in a low dose they do not cause day-time drowsiness and are therefore useful for occupational stress, examination jitters and as a relaxant and mild sedative for stress and insomnia
If you are feeling anxious, try hypericum, which has been clinically proven to improve the symptoms of anxiety
Often talking your problems over with someone helps you to see things from a different slant. This can be helpful in finding a solution which you did not think of before. If there is no family member or friend who you feel comfortable talking to, ask your healthcare professional for a referral to a counsellor who will help you to pinpoint events or conditions that are stressful to you, and to devise ways of reducing the stress they cause.
Maintaining your physical health has a strong benefit for your mental health too. When you are under a lot of stress, pay extra attention to your diet and exercise routine. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and sugary and fatty foods which can lead to declining energy levels, and aim for a balanced diet to ensure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals.
Schedule regular periods of activity which you find relaxing. This can mean anything from walking the dog to watching a funny movie or going out to dinner with friends. Massage is also of benefit, and as well as being relaxing can help to improve your sleep and relieve muscle tension.
Your body is less likely to be affected by stress when it’s in good health. Stop smoking, commence a regular exercise programme and maintain a balanced diet, and you will find that you don’t get stressed as easily.
If you know that you are particularly susceptible to stress, consider taking up meditation or doing a course to develop new problem-solving skills. Sometimes changing the way you look at problems changes the way you react to them.
For help in these areas, ask your healthcare professional to refer you to a teacher in your area.
If you are feeling under stress all or most of the time, chances are your body is feeling it too. Take time out to evaluate your situation and long-term ways to deal with it, and consult your healthcare professional for supportive therapy and advice.