By Oge Okafor (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Experts say that stress is a daily part of life and in moderation it’s good for the body. Stress within your comfort zone can help you perform under pressure, motivate you to do your best, even keep you safe when danger looms. But when stress becomes overwhelming, it can damage your mood and relationships and lead to a host of serious mental and physical health problems. The trouble is that modern life is so full of frustrations, deadlines, and demands that many of us don’t even realize how stressed we are. By recognizing the symptoms and causes of stress, you can take the first steps to reducing its harmful effects and improving your quality of life. With the high level of stress in our society, we find ourselves becoming almost numb to stress and many people don’t realize just how stressed they are.
Stress takes up five-and-a-half years of your life, a study claims. Whether it is work-related, financial woes or you’re running late for dinner – the average adult spends two hours and 11 minutes of every day feeling stressed. That amounts to more than 15 hours a week, 33 days of each year, or five years and six months over the average adult lifetime. And our peak time of stress is at the age of 36.
The survey, sponsored by herbal medicine provider A. Vogel, involved 2,000 British adults interviewed by OnePoll.
It revealed being late for something and running out of time are most likely to cause us stress, followed by getting stuck in traffic and health issues for yourself or family members. Meeting deadlines, not being able to afford things, weight gain, cold calls and debt complete the top ten. Sixty-three percent of people said they even feel stressed on their days off work. Even happy things like relationships, birthdays and Christmas are among the highest stressors, according to the survey.
Unsurprisingly, in-laws are near the top of the list.
It also emerged we are most stressed at the age of 36; with some so badly affected by it, it has led to sleepless nights and even a health problem.
Dr Margaret Ritchie, Associate Lecturer at the University of West Scotland, said “When our bodies experience stress, especially ongoing stress which the survey highlights, it affects the biochemistry and simply put, causes inflammation that impacts our immunity resulting in our body being more susceptible to flu and colds as winter settles in.”
Other common causes of stress include queuing for a long time, computer problems, arguments with a partner and automated phone systems.
Road works, moving, self-service checkouts and dogs barking are also among the top 50 causes of stress.
Eighty-one percent of people said stress has been so bad that they lost five nights of sleep in the past month. Two thirds said they were so stressed that it has affected their health. A third of respondents had taken time off work due to stress. And one in four have even quit a job because they found it too stressful.
Signs of stress
Dr Megan Arroll, a leading psychologist and author of a new book on irritable bowel syndrome called IBS, Navigating Your Way To Recovery, says “Stress impacts on our mind and bodies in many ways and manifests itself in a very physical way for many of us. Stress can be a result of overburdening ourselves, so don’t feel you need to do everything all the time – prioritize yourself as it’s impossible to care for others if you’re burnt out. We are often better at showing understanding and compassion to pretty much anyone else but ourselves. So practice being kind to yourself. This means saying no, having some rest time and perhaps most importantly, not berating ourselves for trivial matters. We all have an inner critic but this voice can be dampened by self-compassion.”
1. Your heart skips a beat – Palpitations can be a sign of stress as your body is in the throes of the fight-or-flight response.
2. You lose the plot – It can be hard to concentrate when chronically stressed, so even trouble with keeping up with a TV story can indicate problematic stress levels.
3. You can’t sit still – Restlessness also signals that stress is becoming an issue that needs to be addressed.
4. You avoid sex – Loss of libido can be both the cause and consequence of stress.
5. You feel sick to the stomach – The gut and brain communicate with each other so if your mind is stressed-out, your bowels can react with pain, constipation and diarrhea which is why it is linked to conditions such as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).
6. Sleep is but a distant dream –Trouble both with falling and staying asleep are associated with long-term stress.
7. You lose your voice – Speaking can become difficult when particularly stressed as breathing patterns may be disturbed.
8. You snap – Stress can lead to increased irritability which can then cause arguments with those close to us.
9. You feel like the world’s closing in – Feeling overwhelmed is a common sign of unsustainable stress.
10. You can’t shake off that cold – Stress dampens immune function so colds and infections can be more frequent when you’re stressed-out.
Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you feel threatened, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which rouse the body for emergency action. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed your reaction time, and enhance your focus. This is known as the “fight or flight” or mobilization stress response and is your body’s way of protecting you.
What is really happening to your body?
When you are stressed, blood is diverted to the brain, heart, lungs and muscles, triggering a fight-or-flight response that you will need to get out of danger.
The heart beat speeds up to pump blood more effectively round the body to these areas.
Breathing speeds up to get oxygen supplies to the muscles as quickly as possible, and sweat levels increase to stop the body from overheating.
Blood sugar levels go up dramatically so that glucose is available to feed the brain and muscles.
And blood vessels constrict.
Effective stress management includes exercise, sleep, relaxation and social connection.
What to do
1. Recite a poem in your head – This type of grounding technique can relieve stress.
2. Use noise-canceling headphones – Especially if you’re working in open-plan office. Constant background noise makes it hard to concentrate so blocking this out can bring back a sense of control.
3. Delegate – We can become stressed simply, because we’re doing too much. Share tasks to fight being overwhelmed.
4. Bake – Or cook a meal that takes some concentration. By focusing on each step, the mind and body will be occupied.
5. Get your hair cut – But only if your hairdresser likes to chat. Simply talking to someone can help lower stress levels.
6. Quieten the critic – We all have an inner voice in our heads and sometimes that voice is rather critical. If you’re having disparaging self-thoughts turn these around by seeing yourself as you’d see others.
7. Create time – Not out of thin air but by being more realistic about how long things take. We tend to underestimate the amount of time activities require so by being more accurate here, it’s less likely that we’ll try to fit too much in.
8. Avoid boredom – Just as being too busy can be stressful, not having enough to occupy us also causes stress. Find things you enjoy, preferably with others as human contact is important for overall health.
9. Zoom out – Things we view as being very important can cause a great deal of stress, for instance a presentation at school or work. Compare the event to bigger tasks you know of or have done before. Zoom out and see that in the greater scheme of things, this isn’t such a huge undertaking.
10. Drink enough water – Dehydration can affect both mental and physical performance which can lead to stress, so make sure to hydrate throughout the day.
11. And breathe–We tend to breathe shallowly through our chest when stressed but stress can be reduced by deep breathing through the diaphragm.
In terms of concrete exercises, Dr Arroll says breathing is the most important thing.
‘Deep breathing through the diaphragm will trigger the parasympathetic nervous system and bring the body and mind back into balance following stress,’ Dr Arroll said.
‘Breathe in slowly for a count of three and then exhale for a count of three.
‘When you inhale make sure that your stomach rises rather than your chest – then your tummy should dip on the exhale. It’s useful also to repeat the word ‘calm’ during this breathing exercise. Do this daily so that it becomes a habit.’
Additional material from dailymail.co.uk
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