What Is Stress?
Stress is a normal physical response to situations or events that upset our normal balance resulting in a feeling of strain and pressure. Stress can be related to external factors in our environment such as driving in peak hour traffic or working in an office. It can also be internal when we feel that the demands of the day exceed our ability and resources to cope effectively with them.
Although, not all stress is bad, it can help motivate us to get a task finished, perform well in an exam or physical challenge or react very quickly in a dangerous situation such as. When stress is prolonged and the perceived stressor interferes with our ability to function well we can enter a state of distress. Prolonged stress can have harmful effects on our health.
What happens when we are stressed?
When we’re stressed, our bodies produce a range of hormones and chemicals including cortisol and adrenaline which enable us to react.. This is known as the “fight or flight” response. These hormones cause physical changes in our body such as increasing our heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, metabolism and muscle tension to enable us to respond to the stressor. Blood supply is diminished to non essential areas including the digestive system and skin.
Every system in our body is affected by these hormones and chemicals. All of us have experienced a sudden jolt of fear and energy which allows us to withdraw from or manage a dangerous situation. In the immediate aftermath, once the danger is managed or removed, we may experience feelings of shakiness, become conscious of a rapid heart rate and breathing and may feel nauseous. This happens quickly and is followed by a relaxation response once the danger has passed.
Unfortunately our bodies are unable to distinguish between the various stressors requiring urgent action (known as acute or short term stress), such as braking suddenly, or the insidious stress (known as chronic or prolonged stress) that we can experience on a day to day basis. When we are under a constant barrage of stressors we are unable to experience the relaxation response. Our bodies still produce the same stress hormones in these prolonged stress situations and as a result our health can suffer in many ways.
Tips for coping
Exercising regularly helps to release our “feel good” hormones called Endorphins. Not only do they help us feel good but they also help to counteract the hormones produced in response to stress. Try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise such as brisk walking 5 or more days of the week.
Vitamin D we absorb from the sunlight helps to boost mood enhancing chemicals and helps us produce the hormones needed to establish and maintain a healthy sleep pattern..
Family and friends can listen and help you to keep things in perspective and assist you to come up with solutions to your problem/s.
Relaxation, take slow deep breaths. Do something that you enjoy, such as taking time out to be creative by doing a hobby, take a relaxing bath, go fishing, read a good book, listen to some relaxing music or go for a walk.
Balance your life – Make sure that you have a good balance between work, rest and relaxation. It is OK to say no to extra unnecessary duties or tasks. Prioritise your duties and responsibilities. Delegate tasks to others who may be willing to help.
Recognise that there are some things over which you have no control like traffic lights, the weather or other people’s behaviour. You may find it helpful to talk to someone who can help you develop healthy strategies in dealing with situations in which you have no control.
Adapt to a healthy diet, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and fish or meat alternatives, legumes, nuts and seeds, low fat dairy or alternatives. Make sure that you eat regularly as this helps to stabilise blood glucose levels your mood. Limit fatty, salty and sugary foods.
Limit alcohol intake if you choose to drink. Drinking alcohol can contribute to depression as alcohol is a depressant. It can also contribute to weight gain and interfere with a wide range of medications.
Limit caffeinated drinks such as tea, coffee, cola and “energy” drinks – these can heighten the symptoms of stress and interfere with sleep patterns. Try herbal teas or switch to decaf tea, coffee or alternatives. Make water your preferred drink of choice. Aim to drink 2 litres of water each day unless otherwise indicated by your doctor.
Seek help – if you feel that you need help to manage your stress talk to your doctor, a Counsellor or ask for a referral to see a Psychologist. There are also many phone and internet resources where you can speak to someone. Remember that it is very important to seek help if you are unable to lessen the impact or feelings of stress on yourself by following the above suggestions.