We’ve all encountered our fair dose of stress. From trying to meet up with impossible deadlines at work to the loss of a loved one and other possibilities. It is easy to say “I am stressed” but how do you identify the signs of stress and how does one measure stress? Is it really stress or are you just fatigued? And if it is stress how do you deal with it? These are pressing questions that require answers. Read on as we take you through the signs and symptoms of stress and ways to deal with them.
WHAT DOES STRESS MEAN?
Stress is the body’s natural reaction to danger, pressure or perceived threat. It is the body’s way of defending you when it senses that you are exposed to imminent danger, this response is mostly referred to as the “fight or flight” reaction or “stress response”. When your body is triggered at the perception of a threat, the nervous system releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline that helps keep you alert and energized, your heartbeat becomes accelerated, your pulse quickens, your muscles tense, your breath shortens, your senses sharpen and you begin to perspire.
Aside from this, stress is also what drives you to take on challenges, such as playing games and winning at it, reading tirelessly for exams, and making the best out of a proposal presentation at work. Stress (cortisol) levels produced in the desired amount in the body is undeniably good for you, but too much or an accelerated production of stress hormone can negatively impact your health.
HOW DOES STRESS OVERLOAD AFFECT THE BODY?
How does one measure stress levels? When stress is triggered frequently and often spirals out of control, it is referred to as chronic stress. When stress is triggered momentarily due to an event such as the loss of a loved one or trauma from an accident, it is referred to as acute stress. Acute stress usually passes after a while and responds to coping techniques. Chronic stress on the other hand tends to build up over time and may lead to long term damage if not curtailed on time.
As mentioned earlier, stress is naturally the body’s response to a dangerous situation,but it becomes a problem when it occurs constantly and continuously. The hormones released in the face of a threat pass up as soon as the reason for the threat has been eliminated . But in situations where the cause of stress remains a constant, the hormones remain activated and can cause severe damages.
You may experience nervousness during public speaking. This nervous reaction is called stress, and it will let up the moment you are done with the presentation. This is normal. What isn’t normal is when you are constantly agitated and nervous due to recurring events or situations.
When stress hormones are activated, Cortisol releases sugar and fat to keep you energized and when this is constantly being released into the bloodstream, the fat may accumulate around organs and expose you to cardiovascular diseases.
Adrenaline makes the heartbeat accelerate blood pressure. When your body is in a continuous state of stress, adrenaline overdose can lead to high blood pressure and hypertension. It can also affect the arteries and may cause a heart attack.
Although acute stress can trigger immune responses, the constant occurrence of Chronic stress can exhaust the immune system. Chronic stress can expose you to health conditions such as heart diseases, stroke, digestive problems, irregular periods, sperm abnormalities, weight gain or loss, skin problems, and a host of other health conditions.
HOW DO YOU MEASURE STRESS
Here is how to effectively measure stress. The human body is designed to react to unusual conditions. This is no different from stress. When stress levels have become abnormally high, your body will begin to give you signals. These signs and symptoms, if identified on time can be treated to avert serious health consequences. Some of the signs and symptoms of chronic stress include
Pains and aches. Due to muscle-tightening when stress response occurs, you may experience headaches, migraines, pain in the chest muscles and a little pressure around the head known as tension headaches.
Reproductive problems. loss of sex drive, irregular or painful periods in women, sperm abnormalities in men or even impotence are all signs and symptoms of stress. Cortisol can hinder sex hormones from functioning properly.
Problems with the digestive system. Stress can interfere with how food is being metabolized in the body. It can cause diarrhea, constipation, nausea and vomiting.
Emotional /cognitive problems. This includes depression, anxiety, mood swings/personality changes, a general feeling of being overwhelmed, unhappiness, irritability, difficulty in concentration, difficulty in making decisions, memory problems, withdrawal and isolation, a feeling of not living up to set expectations, and constantly worrying and mulling over a particular thought or negative event a thousand times.
Behavioral problems: Includes emotional eating, eating too much or too little. Sleeping excessively or sleeping for very little periods of time. Procrastination. Turning to alcohol and drugs as a means of escape.
WHY ARE YOU STRESSED?
The cause of stress known as stressors varies among individuals. The ability to control how we emotionally deal with unpleasant life events is a factor in determining how stress can affect us. What may be a cause of stress to one person may not be the cause for another person.
For some people, being constantly caught up in a demanding life such as work, family, mounting financial bills or problems could be a cause of stress. For some others, life changes such as the loss of a spouse, loss of a job, expulsion from school, relationship problems such as a divorce or break up can lead to stress. Trauma from an accident, sexual or domestic abuse can also trigger stress in some people.
Pre-existing mental conditions such as depression and anxiety can also expose you to stress. Stress is subjective, and whatever the cause may be, it is important to know when to seek help. Identifying the signs and symptoms cited above is a good start towards knowing when to give stress the boot out of your life.
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH STRESS
The first step towards dealing with stress is identifying the stressors. When that is conveniently out of the way, you can imbibe the following steps
Getting lots of physical activity such as exercise can help relax your tensed up muscles and boost the proper functioning of your body system. Running, swimming, taking brisk walks, dancing and yoga are some of the exercises you can engage in.
Exercise helps to strengthen your muscles, keep you in good shape, keep your heart in good condition, and helps you to relax and sleep better. It is also important to focus on the exercise while you are at it and stop your thoughts from straying to negative places, for the exercise to achieve its purpose. You can listen to good music that helps calm your mind and stops your thoughts from wandering in opposite directions while exercising.
KEEP A SOCIAL CIRCLE
You are bound to want to detach from people and live like a hermit when you are feeling stressed, but having a strong support system can go a long way in helping you when you are down in the dumps. When your mood allows, take time out to hang with your friends and family, attend social events where you get to meet new people. Go out more and invite people over to your place too.
They say “a problem shared is half solved”. Maybe all you need when you are feeling down is that knock on your door that ushers in a friend with a smiling face or that text from the girl next door asking “how have you been”?. This can help vivify your mood and spirit to great lengths.
In other words “MEDITATION” is key. It is a fact that meditation which is centered on mindfulness can help you attain mental clarity and put your wandering thoughts into perspective. If you are feeling stressed because of racing and anxious thoughts, meditation is a good way to show those thoughts the way out.
Find a quiet place and sit. Focus on an object or simply close your eyes. Filter out negative thoughts and replace them with good ones. When the negative thoughts continue to come back, just observe them without judgment. This is only one out of many ways you can meditate. You may look up other different methods of meditations as well.
MAKE TIME FOR “ME TIME”
When you are feeling overwhelmed by the whirlwind of emotionally draining and physically exhausting activities or events happening in your life, take time to take a deep breath and relax. Indulge in self-care. Take a walk and explore nature, go to the spa and get a massage done. Soak in a warm bath with a glass of wine and a good book. Go shopping. Do whatever makes you feel really good personality. It could be something as simple as inhaling the smell of coffee or an aromatic candle.
GET ENOUGH SLEEP
Sleep disturbances can exacerbate the symptoms of stress. When you don’t get enough sleep you may feel irritable or perhaps grumpy. It can also affect your energy level and make you feel lethargic.
To combat stress, create a sleep routine, rule out screen-time before bed. Also blue light from phones can deter the sleep hormone melatonin from carrying out its duties effectively. Sleep well and watch your stress level begin to dip.
ENGAGE IN LEISURE ACTIVITIES
This part is quite self-explanatory. Engage in physical activities, games, attend social events, and just have a great time.
EAT GOOD FOOD
Yes, food is at the center of everything. It is the fuel the body needs to run smoothly. When stress makes your body engines greasy, you need to oil it with good food. You may want to eat lots of convenience and sugary foods because cortisol is inducing those cravings in you but do better by exploring the colorful world of vegetables and fruits. Also, remember to drink lots of water
SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
When self-help doesn’t work, do not feel dejected or disappointed. Consult a doctor, a psychologist, or mental health provider who can help to identify your stressors and take you through ways to better deal with them.