Your Doctor

National Stress Awareness Day - November 1st

The easier question might be to ask ‘who isn’t stressed’. 

An essential myth debunker is that stress is not always a bad thing. Without the ability to feel stress, mankind wouldn’t have survived. Our ancestors used the onset of stress to alert them to a potential danger. Today during small periods of stress we can be very productive people, and achieve great things.

The problem arises when the levels and persistence of this natural feature become too much.

Research has shown that around 12 million adults in the UK see their GP with mental health problems each year. Most of these suffer from anxiety and depression and much of this is stress-related. 13.3 million working days are lost per year due to stress, depression and anxiety.

It is estimated around three quarters of us experience some kind of stress in every two week period. This can manifest itself as emotional, physical, and/or mental stress.

The term stress as a physiological process was coined by Hans Seyle an endocrinologist who first used it to describe symptoms such as chronic back pain or high blood pressure with no obvious cause. It is evolved to encompass many other features since then.

What is stress?

It is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you feel threatened, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which rouse the body for emergency action. Our bodies enter ‘fight or flight’ mode. 

Persistent elevation of these chemicals over time can cause irreversible damage to your body. It is worth addressing the issue sooner rather than later.

What are the signs of stress?

• Depression and anxiety

• Irritability and angry outbursts

• Insomnia

• Poor eating habits

• Increased heart rate and palpitations

• Nausea

• Reduced libido

Simple steps to combatting stress

• Get a good night’s sleep. When you are tired, you are less patient and more easily agitated, which can increase stress. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Practicing good sleep hygiene (go to bed at a decent hour, keep the room dark and cool, turn off your phone) along with stress-lowering tactics can help improve your quality of sleep.

• Keep a positive mind set. Happiness required effort, adopting a positive mind-set and learning to be content are key areas to develop for all of us. Three simple tips that are said to teach your brain to enable you to look for positives in situations more easily are; giving compliments, keeping a gratitude diary and performing one act of kindness daily. Did you know you should hug a minimum of eight times a day! Even a pat on the back or a handshake can increase happiness. Try it and see!

• Learn to say no. Saying no can be seen as selfish, but often saying yes is actually the worse option. Taking on the world and then feeling unable to offer the best can leave you feeling incapable, stressed and anxious. Learn to work within your limits.

• Reduce alcohol consumption. It is estimated around 12% of people drink alcohol as a way to combat stress. A glass of wine (or two!) at first can ease a stressful moment, but don’t be fooled. After a few hours as your alcohol level rises it can actually have a depressant and a sedating effect on your brain.

• Regular exercise. Participation in regular aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. Even five minutes a day can stimulate anti-anxiety effects. Meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, even breathing deeply can cause your body to produce endorphins (anti stress hormones and natural pain killers). 

• Vitamins and supplements.

• Eat for your health. Emotional well being drives better food choices. We all know about our 5-a-day for fresh fruit and vegetables, but simple things like gulping down food, consuming too much carbohydrates and refined sugars can all lead to sugar surges and then dips. The these dips that enhance low mood and anxiety. Limiting your caffeine and fizzy drinks can also offer a steadier hormone level in your blood stream and make you feel less irritable.

• Don’t be a tech slave. The blue light emitted from mobiles and tablets can disrupt sleep patterns and make us moodier. Limiting your time on these devices will allow you space to breathe, think and unwind in a more natural way.

Chronic stress can cause serious health effects including; increased blood pressure, suppressed immune system, greater risk of heart attacks and strokes and an increased chance of experiencing some form of mental or emotional health issues. It is a completely manageable with the right help and support. Don’t’ wait, act now!

There are also lots of useful tips and management tools on the official National Stress Awareness website.