We all struggle with stress at some point in our lives. We can’t avoid it, we all have some stress it is part and parcel of life. We also go through exceptionally stressful periods of life sometimes – such as moving house, a relationship breakdown, death of a loved one. Not only that we have times when things like exams, having to give a talk, having to do something outside of our comfort zone – we all feel stressed from time to time.
Fortunately, we are designed to deal with stress and react to it.
Here’s what happens to our bodies when we are stressed – our nervous system releases stress hormones which include adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones help us to cope with the threat or danger, and is also called the fight or flight response. It makes up hyper alert and able to deal with the immediate threat. If we were a cave man or woman we would be able to run away very fast, climb a tree super speedily, or we would be ready to fight. So stress can be positive as it makes us alert and super focussed.
Once the event subsides we relax and start to calm down, the hormones dissipate in our blood stream. However, when we continually experience stress in our lives, then the nervous system stays hyper-vigilant, and the stress response carries on continually. This is when problems arise with our health. Continued stress causes problems with our immune system. This is because cortisol which is being continually released supresses the immune system and we then become more susceptible to infections and inflammatory conditions. We can’t fight off illness so easily.
When we are stressed we breathe harder to get the oxygenated blood around the body faster. When we are continually stressed then it can make us feel short of breath and can even cause hyperventilation, especially if someone is prone to anxiety or panic attacks.
Also, continual stress keeps our muscles tensed up which is the body’s way of protecting us from injury. If our muscles are tense for a long time then we end up with aches and pains, tension headaches and migraine. Holding the muscles tight becomes a habit and we become set in a position, with our shoulders held high, our necks hurting.
Blood pressure and heart rate increases during stress and return to normal once the stressful event has passed. However, if stress carries on over a long period of time then it can cause damage to the blood vessels and arteries which increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack or stroke.
As if this isn’t enough, continued stress also plays havoc with our metabolism, our digestive system, and even our reproductive system. Women can experience changes to their menstrual cycles.
When we are stressed over a long period of time we experience tiredness, mood swings, irritability, difficulty sleeping, or staying awake. We have poor concentration, difficulty learning and remembering things. It can cause depression and even weight gain.
The way we try to cope with stress can also cause more health issues. For instance, we might drink alcohol to help us relax, we might smoke, eat too much or take drugs.
I have experienced first-hand the damage that long term stress can cause, and I see it every day in my clients.
This all sounds pretty depressing, right?
My take-away message is – learn to manage your stress, before it causes ill-health. Remember, some stress in life is normal – and a little stress helps us to feel focussed, alert, motivated and ready to act.
Here’s what to look out for:
- Be in tune with how you are feeling and recognise when you are chronically stressed
- When you recognise that you are chronically stressed accept that you need to take action
- When you start to feel very anxious or panicky about the things that used to be easy, such as driving somewhere, or going to the shops, then it’s time to manage your stress levels.
The good news is that there are ways of dealing with stress, which are inexpensive and easy to do. It needs to become part of your life – a habit. Some of my favourite methods of dealing with stress are:
- Meditation or mindfulness for just a short period each day helps to calm the mind
- Emotional Freedom Technique (Tapping).
- Listening to visualisations.
- Listening to music.
- Using essential oils.
- Take time for yourself.
Maybe you need to be open to the fact that you might have to make a change in your life.
If you don’t deal with the chronic stress, then remember that there will be health consequences so it is better to act. Pretending it isn’t there or hiding it won’t work – you can’t fool yourself. Look at it squarely in the face and take action – you have everything to gain.
Thanks for reading and if you want to know more about any of the methods I have mentioned, or if you would like to find out about how to work with me, do get in touch.