Stress

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Stess is your body’s way of protecting you against threats and dangers. When you sense danger (real or imagined) your body’s defences go on an overdrive, leading to a surge of hormones that prep you up to either fight it or flee from it. This stress response is known as the fight-or-flight mechanism. The moment you feel threatened, your central nervous system releases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. They rouse your body to take immediate action. Your heart beats faster, muscles become tight, blood pressure escalates, breath becomes quick and mind becomes sharper. These physiological changes rev up your stamina, enhance strength, help you react faster and sharpen your focus. While stress is a necessary and natural defence mechanism of the body that keeps us motivated and alert, it can be dangerous if it becomes a continuous process when it brings along psychological and physical complications. Mental health challenges that stress can trigger include depression, panic attacks, or other forms of anxiety disorders. A growing body of research suggests that stress can intensify the symptoms of certain diseases. According to certain estimates, it can be associated with six of the potential causes of death: heart ailments, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide. It can impel you to indulge in self-abortive behaviours such as substance abuse and unsafe sex. So, if you find yourself frazzled or frequently overwhelmed, seek professional help to bring back the balance of your nervous system. Here, we help you protect yourself with a thorough guideline on stress, its types, symptoms and management.

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Types

You can experience stress in various forms. Typically, there are three types of stress: acute stress, episodic acute stress and chronic stress.

ACUTE STRESS

Everyone experiences this and acute stress is your body’s immediate response to a challenging situation, which can be negative or positive. You can experience it after narrowly escaping a car accident or while on a roller coaster. Stressful situations, in certain cases, may not only be harmless but can also be beneficial for you. This is because they prepare you for a better response to future stressful events. For acute stress, your body revives back to its normal state after the situation eases. However, if you experience severe acute stress, which may emanate from a life-threatening incident, it is likely to suffer from a mental health condition like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

EPISODIC ACUTE STRESS

When you go through frequent episodes of acute stress, your condition is known as episodic acute stress, which occurs when you are worried or anxious about certain things quite often in life. It can be the result of an imagined or suspected danger and can have physical and mental health consequences.

CHRONIC STRESS

When you undergo high-stress levels through prolonged periods of time, it is known as chronic stress and can come with complications such as:


  • Anxiety

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Depression

  • High blood pressure

  • Weak immune function

  • Headache

  • Tummy issues

Symptoms

The signs of stress may manifest through your body, emotions and behaviours. The symptoms vary from person to person, depending on their life situation and personality traits. Here are certain red flags of stress that you need to watch out for.

PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS


  • Profuse sweating

  • Pain in the back or chest

  • Muscle cramps or spasms

  • Fainting (only in severe cases)

  • Headaches

  • Twitch in your nerves

  • Pin and needle sensations

  • Dizziness

  • Sleep issues

  • Indigestion


PSYCHOLOGICAL SYMPTOMS

  • Anger

  • Burnout

  • Concentration issues

  • Fatigue

  • Insecurity

  • Forgetfulness

  • Irritability

  • Nail-biting

  • Restlessness

  • Persisting sadness


BEHAVIOURAL SYMPTOMS

  • Alcohol and substance abuse

  • High tobacco consumption

  • Social withdrawal

  • Eating too much or too little

  • Lack of interest in sex

Causes And Risk Factors

Causes

The body goes through various changes at times: they can be traumatic and can lead to disruption in the body’s physiological condition. This can cause the body to go through stress. Stress can be a result of various behavioural and physiological responses that are directed towards maintaining the disrupted balance in the body system. An individual exposed to stress can eventually lead to cognitive impairment, depression and anxiety. Another possible cause for stress can be the release of corticotrophin-releasing hormone from neurons because of the activation of the HPA axis in the hypothalamus.

Risk Factors

Cognitive and physiological reactions to stressors are highly influenced by genetics, early-life environment and trauma and contribute to individual differences in stress reactivity and the case of PTSD and stress pathology.

Prevention

Prevention strategies of stress comprise the following-


  • Primary prevention - Preventing stress before the condition presents is called primary prevention. Primary prevention can be obtained in the following ways in the form of health awareness and promotion.

  • Secondary prevention - This type of prevention will be during the early initiation of disease when there are no symptoms.

  • Tertiary prevention - Tertiary prevention is performed after the disease occurs, and it is combined with the ongoing treatment.

Diagnosis

There is no specific test for stress. A psychologist diagnoses the condition through questionnaire and face to face interaction. Medicine is not recommended for stress if it is not caused by any underlying condition. If it is associated with depression or anxiety disorder, the doctor may prescribe antidepressants. However, developing coping strategies is the best way to manage stress. Alternative therapies such as relaxation techniques, meditation, aromatherapy and reflexology may help.

Treatment

Treatment of stress can be attained by the following four therapies:

Cognitive behavioural therapy - Cognitive behavioural therapy is a way to analyze the pattern in which you think and identify the possible solutions for the trigger points. Mindfulness-based stress reduction is a therapy which combined with yoga directs towards decreasing stress.

Pharmacological therapy is as follows - Minor tranquillizers can be taken for lack of sleep. Anti-depression therapy with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors can help in reducing anxiety and coping with stress. Antidepressants such as clomipramine, monoamine oxidase inhibitors can also be used. Benzodiazepines can be used in the initial stages to reduce anxiety. Alpha delta calcium channel anticonvulsants and beta-blockers have been used to reduce anxiety and treat stress. Another preferable approach in recent studies has been pharmacotherapy along with psychotherapy.

Lifestyle/management

While some of us breeze through the challenges of life, others crumble under obstacles and frustrations. Small lifestyle measures can go a long way in helping alleviate stress.

Work out regularly: Exercise uplifts your mood by bringing down stress hormones and releasing happy brain chemicals such as endorphins. They can work by distracting you from negative thoughts. Some studies suggest that workouts can decrease memory loss in people living with stress. Cycling, running, swimming and dancing can act as major stress relievers.

Eat mindfully: A balanced diet sorts out many physical and mental health issues. Certain foods can play an instrumental role in regulating your mood. While a high-sugar diet full of refined carbohydrates and processed food can worsen stress symptoms, a meal rich in proteins, vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids will uplift your mood.

Manage your priorities well: Make an organised to-do list based on priorities. This will help you manage your time better eliminating the stress of a last-minute rush.

Perform breathing exercises: Deep breathing is known to have a calming effect on your nervous system; it promotes relaxation and sleep.

Open up to your near ones: Talking to people you trust is a great way of bringing down your stress load. It not only improves your mood but also gives you a fresh perspective. Just a brief conversation can make you feel secure and warm.

Engage your senses: Focussing on your five senses is a great way to relieve stress. Yes, listening to a song or simply smelling coffee can relieve your tense nerves.

Prognosis And Complications

Prognosis

Stress disorders have been involved as an etiological factor in various conditions. A study in Denmark has associated post-traumatic stress disorder with the risk of developing cancer. There are studies that have examined gastrointestinal disease progression with stress. The relation between stress disorders and cardiovascular disorders has been established in multiple studies. Moreover, stress disorders such as acute stress disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder have been associated with suicide.

Complications

In addition to psychological issues such as depression and anxiety disorder, stress can be a contributing factor behind many health conditions such as raised blood pressure levels, heart ailments and even ulcer. When stress hormones go haywire, various important physiological functions, including those of your heart, liver and stomach, are affected. Research suggests that stress can take a toll on your immune cells, making them less effective. Other complications that stress can lead to include erectile dysfunction, fertility issues, and missed periods.

Alternative Treatments

Cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy are aimed at decreasing stress through meditation and self-analysis.

References. 


  1. Endotext. Stress: Endocrine Physiology and Pathophysiology. [Internet] [Updated on October 17, 2020] Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK278995/.

  2. Accessed on March 10, 2021.HHS Public access. Stress risk factors and stress-related pathology: Neuroplasticity, Epigenetics, and endophenotypes. [Internet] Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3641164/. Accessed on March 10, 2021.

  3. Neuropsychopharmacology. Prevention of Trauma and stress or stress-related disorders: A Review. [Internet] Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4677144/. Accessed on March 10, 2021.

  4. HHS Public access. Pharmacological treatment of anxiety disorders: Current treatments and future directions. [Internet] Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3539724/. Accessed on March 10, 2021.

  5. Clinical Epidemiology. Prevalence and prognosis of stress disorders: A review of epidemiological literature. [Internet] Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5422316/. Accessed on March 10, 2021.

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