Stress 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 fight-or-flight mechanism. The moment you feel threatened, your central nervous system releases stress hormones like 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, 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. This 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 also intensify the symptoms of certain diseases. According to some estimates, it can be associated with 6 of the potential causes of death: Heart ailments, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide. It can also impel you to indulge in self-abortive behaviours like substance abuse, unsafe sex, so on and so forth. So, if you find yourself frazzled or overwhelmed frequently, 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.
TYPES OF STRESS
You can experience stress in various forms. Typically, there are three types of stress: Acute stress, episodic acute stress and chronic stress.
Everyone experiences this. Acute stress is your body’s immediate response to 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 some 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. In case of acute stress, your body revives back to normal state after the situation eases. But if you experience severe acute stress, which may emanate from a life-threatening incident, then 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. This 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 too. It can have physical and mental health consequences.
When you undergo high stress levels through prolonged periods of time, it is known as chronic stress. It can come with complications like:
CAUSES OF STRESS
There are several life situations and conditions that can lead to stress. These are known as stressors. It can be caused by external factors which you have hardly any control over, or by internal factors like your own thought process.
External triggers behind stress include:
- Death of a close one
- Injury or illness
- Job loss
- Work or school
- Relationship issues
- Financial troubles
Internal culprits behind stress include:
- Pessimistic thoughts
- Inability to accept uncertainty
- Lack of flexibility
- Negative self-talk
- Unrealistic expectations
- All-or-nothing attitude
ASSOCIATED COMPLICATIONS OF STRESS
Apart from psychological issues like depression and anxiety disorder, stress can be a contributing factor behind many health conditions like 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 also take a toll on your immune cells, making them less effective. Other complications that stress can lead to include erectile dysfunction, fertility issues, missed period, so on and so forth.
SYMPTOMS OF STRESS
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 some red flags of stress that you need to watch out for.
- Profuse sweating
- Pain in the back or chest
- Muscle cramps or spasms
- Fainting (only in severe cases)
- Twitch in your nerves
- Pin and needle sensations
- Sleep issues
- Concentration issues
- Nail biting
- Persisting sadness
- Alcohol and substance abuse
- High tobacco consumption
- Social withdrawal
- Eating too much or too little
- Lack of interest in sex
DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT OF STRESS
There is no specific test for stress. A psychologist diagnoses the condition through questionnaire and face to face interaction. Medicine isn’t recommended for stress if it isn’t caused by any underlying condition. If it is associated with depression or anxiety disorder, then the doctor may prescribe antidepressants. However, developing coping strategies is the best way to manage stress. Alternative therapies like relaxation techniques, meditation, aromatherapy and reflexology may also help.
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 them alleviate stress.
Work out regularly: Exercise uplifts your mood by bringing down stress hormones and releasing happy brain chemicals like endorphins. They can also 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 also 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 last-minute rush.
Perform breathing exercises: Deep breathing is known to have a calming effect on your nervous system. It also 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 tensed nerves.