The dictionary defines stress as “a pressure or tension exerted on another object; a demand on physical or mental energy; or forcibly exerted influence usually causing distress or strain.” In short stress is any factor, positive or negative that requires a response or change. Medical research recognises that chronic ongoing stress can lead to illness, aggravate existing disease conditions and accelerate aging.
Many diseases have a foundation of stress. 43% of adults suffer adverse health effects from stress. 75-90% of all doctor appointments are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
Common stressors include most aspects of life – family, financial, emotional and environmental, and nutritional factors, as well as personal and work-related stresses and relationships. According to research nearly half a million people in the UK have work-related stress that is making them ill, resulting in sick leave. It is estimated that 12 million working days are lost each year in the UK due to stress-related illness. (HSE.gov.co.uk)
The concept of job stress is often confused with challenge. Clearly these concepts are not the same. Challenge, if at the appropriate level, energizes both psychologically and physically. It motivates to learn new skills and master our jobs. When a challenge is met, we feel relaxed and satisfied, proud and perhaps even excited about what we have achieved
When does a challenge become stressful? Either when the goal cannot be achieved because it looks and feels overwhelming or when demands cannot be met, due to capability and or lack of necessary resources. Very quickly the situation can change from focused and motivated to exhaustion from trying, and the sense of ability to accomplish has turned into feelings of stress.
How do you know when you are stressed? In other words what are the symptoms?
Early symptoms include tiredness and lack of energy, tension headaches, and poor sleep, and even dizziness, stomach tension and diarrhoea. When stress becomes more ingrained and towards adrenal exhaustion, these symptoms are still evident, but stronger and more constant, and often joined by other symptoms, among them, sweaty hands and feet, insomnia, circulating thoughts, nightmares, inability to get back to sleep, mood swings, anxiety attacks, stomach pains, heart burn and palpitations, anxiety attacks, depression and if that’s not enough?, feelings of being exhausted all the time.
Subjecting the body to constant stress means the fight and flight system is no longer able to turn off. In other words your body is in a constant state of alert, whether there is danger or not. The stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol are released which sends blood to the areas of the body that most need it including the heart and muscles in order to get you away from the immediate danger. When the perceived fear has gone, the hypothalamus should tell the systems to go back to normal. When constantly under stress this system becomes incapable of regulation and therefore cortisol continues to flood the system causing the many symptoms mentioned. If we do not learn how to manage our stress effectively, ultimately can lead to chronic disease.
Some helpful tips for managing the body’s reaction in the early stages of stress:
Take care of sleep hygiene:
- Be in bed by 10.30pm latest
- Make your bedroom a “no zone” forelectronic devices– TV, lab tops, tablets, phones etc
- Stop working on the above devices at least an hour before bed in order to calm the brain. Instead, read, meditate, take a warm bath with calming essential oils or simply share time with your family.
- Rub lavender oil into your feet before getting into bed
- Drink calming tea such as Lime Blossom, Chamomile, Lemon Melissa and or Lavender before retiring
- Vigorous exercise to be completed a minimum of 2 hours before going to bed
- Eating late means the body is digesting rather than resting. Therefore, allow two hours for digestion of your last meal before going to bed.
NOTE: for advanced symptoms of stress take advice from a herbalist, kinesiologist and or medical doctor.