Let’s Talk About Stress
It’s stress awareness month and we’re taking a closer look at the ins and outs of this physiological and psychological phenomenon. Everyone has experienced stress at least once in their life, for whatever reason and in whichever shape or form it may have been.
We generally experience stress when we are frightened, uncertain, or worried over a situation or its outcome, but we also experience a form of stress when we are nervous before a big, exciting, life-altering moment. The latter is commonly referred to as ‘eustress’ (or the ‘good’ kind of stress) and can benefit us by helping us meet deadlines, boosting our energy, and increasing our motivation levels.
Without the ability to feel stressed, we would struggle to survive as a species, and we probably wouldn’t be here today without this built-in evolutionary trait from our ancestors. When there is an external threat or stimulus in the environment, our bodies should be able to respond to the stressor by initiating a fight-or-flight response. This automatic response is what gets us to react swiftly, keep moving, and avoid physical harm – or even death. But at which point does stress become bad for our health?
How Much is Too Much?
Stress is generally not harmful if it is short-term (i.e., persisting for less than a week). However, when we find that we are under constant stress for prolonged periods of time (i.e., experiencing it continuously for longer than 7 days) and start to feel that we cannot cope, this can be considered harmful.
When stress begins to fall outside of the normal range (i.e., manifesting as intense, continuous, and long-lasting) it can start affecting daily functioning and quality of life. This type of stress is referred to as chronic stress, and can be damaging to personal relationships, life goals, and work performance. When an individual is experiencing chronic stress, they should seek professional help as soon as possible to limit the short-term and long-term effects thereof on their physical and psychological health.
Physical and Psychological Symptoms of Severe or Chronic Stress
If you are wondering whether you, or someone close to you, is suffering from abnormal/chronic stress, there are some warning signs to look out for. Prolonged chronic stress can lead to any of the following psychological symptoms:
· rapid, disorganised thoughts
· difficulties concentrating
· feeling a sense of lost control
· low self-esteem
· feeling helpless
· general feelings of nervousness
Chronic stress does not only lead to psychological symptoms, but can also contribute to physical symptoms such as:
· headaches and migraines
· cardiovascular issues (clogging of the arteries, and increased risk of hypertension and heart attack)
· increased risk of stroke
· brain changes, resulting in mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and addiction
· stomach cramps
· insomnia (stress makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep)
· heartburn (stress increases the production of stomach acid, which can cause or even worsen heartburn)
· weakened immunity (long-term stress can weaken your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to illnesses and infections)
· muscle tension (often leading to pain and cramping in the shoulders, neck, and head).
· lowered sex-drive
· pain in the lower back pain (generally linked to chronic job-related stress)
From the above-mentioned symptoms it is evident that chronic stress affects all systems of the body, from the cardiovascular system to the respiratory, digestive, and even neurological systems. That is why it is of paramount importance that we address the root causes of a person’s stress and to seek out the right treatment options for them so that there aren’t more serious consequences to follow.
How Can Stress be Managed?
There are many ways to relieve and manage stress, some of which include:
· going to therapy or seeing a doctor
· practicing deep breathing
· learning to manage time more effectively
· focusing on being assertive rather than aggressive
· Making time for mindfulness and/or meditation
· exercising more often (e.g., walking, running, dancing, cycling, climbing stairs, doing physical chores)
· following a healthier diet
· trying to keep a positive attitude (within realistic parameters)
· making more time for the things and people you love (i.e., your parents, spouse, children, best friends, pets, hobbies, leisure activities)
· getting enough sleep
· cutting down on alcohol and caffeine
To those suffering from chronic stress in their everyday lives, it can be a great source of comfort knowing that there is a way out and that there is light at the end of a seemingly never-ending tunnel of darkness. There are many great ways to manage and alleviate chronic stress, and we should embrace all of the tools and support that are at our disposal. Many people are unaware of the options available to them, and their stress may become so severe that they can feel unable to cope and/or meet the demands of daily life. This often leads to a vicious cycle of negative emotions, nervous energies, and low productivity.
Therefore, we should foster open conversations and cultivate spaces in which our peers and colleagues can access the necessary information, resources, and services that they need, so that we can equip them – and ourselves – with the skills to better deal with chronic stress and related psychopathologies. By improving both our mental and physical health, we will not only have communities that survive, but communities that thrive.
Plumm is a workplace mental wellbeing platform that partners with progressive organisations to help build a more compassionate and productive workforce. Plumm’s mission is to make mental wellbeing a reality for every member of the global workforce. With over 150 accredited therapists and specialised coaches, its platform offers employees evidence-based care tailored to their needs while helping companies save money in engagement and healthcare costs.
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