STRESS: Don't ignore the signs

Stress can have a wide ranging effects on emotions, mood and behavior. Equally important but often less appreciated are effects on various systems, organs and tissues all over the body.

Stress is not always bad. In small doses, it can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do you best. But when you’re constantly running in emergency mode, your mind and body pay the price. If you keep finding yourself feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, it’s time to take action to bring your mind and body back into balance. You can protect yourself and improve how you think and feel, by learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of chronic stress and taking steps to reduce its harmful effects.

 

Stress facts

Everyone feels stressed from time to time. Not all stress is bad but chronic stress can cause both physical and mental harm.

Here are few facts:

. Stress is a normal part of life that can either help us learn and grow or can cause us significant problems.

. Stress releases powerful neurochemicals and hormones that prepare us for action(fight or flight).

. If we don’t take action, the stress response can create or worsen health problems.

. Prolonged, uninterrupted, unexpected, and unmanageable stresses are the most damaging.

. Stress can be managed by seeking support from loved ones, regular exercise, meditation or other relaxation techniques, structured timeouts, and learning new coping strategies to create predictability in our lives.

. Many behaviors that increase in times of stress and non-adaptive ways of coping with stress-drugs, pain medicines, alcohol, smoking, and eating- actually worsen the stress and can make us more reactive(sensitive) to further stress.

. Risk factors for unmanageable stress include a lack of adequate social support.

. While there are promising treatments for stress, the management of stress is mostly dependent on the ability and willingness of a person to make the changes necessary for a healthy lifestyle.

 

What is stress?

Stress is a fact of nature in which forces from the inside or outside world affect the individual, either one’s emotional or physical well-being, or both. The person responds to stress in ways that affect the individual, as well as their environment. Due to an excess of stress in our modern lives, we usually think of stress as a negative experience, but form a biological point of view, stress can be a neutral, negative, or positive experience.

In general, stress is related to external and internal factors. External factors include the physical environment, including your job, your relationships with others, your home, and all the situations, challenges, difficulties, and expectations you’re confronted with on a daily basis. Internal factors determine your body’s ability to respond to, and deal with, the external stress-including factors. Internal factors include your nutritional status, overall health and fitness levels, emotional well-being, and the amount of sleep and rest you get.

Types of stress

We can talk about stress according to whether it is good or bad. Or, we can talk about stress according to its time line, which means sudden or chronic.

- Good stress, also know as Eustress. It can be fun,exciting and energizing, especially in short-term. Just the right amount of stress is stimulating and healthy. Thinking sharpens the mind and helps our body physically.

- Bad stress, also know as Distress. It is the stress that most people think when talking about stress. In fact, people usually just call stress. Situations like losing a job or someone close, cause distress.

Distress can be sudden, episodic or it can persist. According to the duration of stress or most frequently distress we can differentiate the following types.

- Acute stress or distress, which is the most common type. It’s your body’s immediate reaction to a new challenge, event, or demand. Examples are like a near-miss car accident, a big mistake at work. Acute stress isn’t always an acute distress.

- Episodic acute stress or distress. When acute stress happens frequently, it’s called episodic acute stress. People who always seem to be having a crisis tend to have episodic acute stress. They are often short-tempered, irritable, and anxious.

Negative health effects are persistent in people with episodic acute stress. It may be hard for them to change their lifestyle as they accept stress as part of life.

- Chronic stress or distress. If acute stress isn’t resolved, increase and persist over long periods of time, it becomes chronic stress. This stress is constant and doesn’t go away. It can originate from such things as poverty, dysfunctional family, unhappy relationship/marriage, a bad job.

Causes of stress

Stress means different things to different people. What causes stress in one person may not be of much concern to another. Some people are better able to handle stress than others. And, not all stress is bad, for example, stress is what gets you to hit the breaks to avoid hitting the car in front of you, drives you to study for an exam when you’d rather watch TV, keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work. But beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and start causing major damage to your health, your mood, your productivity, your relationship, and your quality of life.

 

The situations and pressures that cause stress are known as stressors. We usually think of stressors as being negative, such as an exhausting work schedule or a rocky relationship. However, anything that puts high demands on you can be stressful. This includes positive events such as getting married, buying a house, going to college, or receiving a promotion.

 

Of course, not all stress is caused by external factors. Stress can also be internal or self-generated, when you worry excessively about something that may or may not happen, or have irrational, pessimistic thoughts about life.

 

Finally, what causes stress depends, at least in part, on your perception of it. Something that’s stressful to you may not faze someone else, they may even enjoy it. For example, your morning commute may make you anxious and tense because you worry that traffic will make you late. Others, however, may find the trip relaxing because they allow more than enough time and enjoy listening to music while they drive.

 

Common external causes of stress:

. Major life changes

. Work or school

. Relationship difficulties

. Financial problems

. Illness

. Being too busy

. Children and family

. Loss

. Abortion and miscarriage

 

Common internal causes of stress:

. Pessimism

. Inability to accept uncertainty

. Rigid thinking, lack of flexibility

. Negative self-talk

. Unrealistic expectations/ perfectionism

. All-or-nothing attitude

Signs and symptoms

Stress can affect all aspects of your life, including your emotions, behaviors, thinking ability, and physical health. No part of the body is immune. But, because people handle stress differently, symptoms of stress can vary. Symptoms can be vague and may be the same as those caused by medical conditions. So it is important to discuss them with your doctor. You experience any of the following symptoms.

 

Cognitive symptoms

. Memory problems

. Inability to concentrate

. Poor judgment

. Seeing only the negative

. Anxious or racing thoughts

. Constant worrying

Physical symptoms

. Aches and pains

. Diarrhea or constipation

. Nausea, dizziness

. Chest pain, rapid heart rate

. Loss of sex drive

. Frequent colds or flu

Emotional symptoms

. Depression or general unhappiness

. Anxiety and agitation

. Moodiness, irritability, or anger

. Feeling overwhelmed

. Loneliness and isolation

. Other mental or emotional health problems

 

Behavioral symptoms

. Eating more or less

. Sleeping too much or too little

. Withdrawing form others

. Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities

. Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax

. Nervous habits( nail biting, pacing)

 Effect of stress on the body

There evidence that points to abnormal stress responses as causing or contributing to various disease or conditions. As illustrated in the following diagram, these include effects on the Nervous system, Musculoskeletal system, Respiratory system, Cardiovascular system, Endocrine system, Gastrointestinal system, Reproductive system.

How much stress is too much stress?

Because the widespread damage stress can cause, it’s important to know your own limit. But just how much stress is too much differs form person to person. Some people seem to be able to roll with life’s punches, while others tend to crumble in the face of small obstacles or frustrations.

Things that influence your stress tolerance level might include:

- your support network: a strong network of supportive friends and family is an big buffer against stress.

- your attitude of control: if you have confidence in yourself and your ability to influence events and persevere through challenges, it’s easier too take stress in stride.

- your attitude and outlook: the way you look at life and its inevitable challenges makes a huge difference in your ability to handle stress.

- your ability to deal with emotions: if you don’t know how to calm and soothe yourself when you’re feeling sad, angry, or troubled, you’re more likely to become stressed and agitated.

- your knowledge and preparation: the more you know about a stressful situation, the easier it is to cope.

Stress management

Stress is part of life. What matters is how you handle it. The best thing you can do to manage stress overload and the health consequences that come with it is to know your stress symptoms.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by stress, talk to you doctor. Many symptoms, as seen above, can also be signs of other problems. You doctor can evaluate your symptoms and rule out other conditions.

Here are a few steps you can take to manage or prevent the feeling of being overwhelmed.

. Exercise: it can benefit a person’s mental and physical health

. Reducing/stop intake of alcohol, drugs, and caffeine: these substances might make your stress worse.    

. Nutrition: a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables helps maintain the immune system at times of stress.

. Prioritizing: spend a little time organizing, then focus of what yo have completed or accomplished for the day.

. Time: set aside some time each day just for yourself.

. Breathing and relaxation: meditation, massage, and yoga can help.

. Talking: engaging in conversations with family and friends or colleagues helps you to “let off steam.” You maybe comforted that you are “not the only one.”

. Acknowledging the signs: try not to miss the symptoms and the effects of stress in your life and on your body.

. Find your own destressor: most people have something that helps them relax, such as reading, going for a walk, cooking,…

 Medication: doctors will not usually prescribe medications for coping with stress, unless the patient has an underlying illness, such as depression or a type of anxiety.

In that case, the doctor is treating a mental illness and not the stress.

 

 

The above article serves only as reference. Kindly refer to your primary care provider for complete consultation and treatment.

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