Stress is one of the most frequently and casually used words by humans, its on the tip of every tongue, often used flippantly as an excuse for not keeping in touch with the world.
Aka ‘I’ve been so stressed yaar.’
Knowingly or unknowingly the real meaning of stress or differentiating between stress and just discomfort falls prey to social chatter and its validation is diluted.
Here’s some information on the real meaning of stress, its symptoms and how to overcome it.
What is stress?
Stress is a type of change that causes physical, emotional or psychological strain on the human body.
Stress causes a person to be overwhelmed which leads to the inability to cope with mental or emotional pressure.
Acute and prolonged stress may lead to long-term health problems and exacerbate existing conditions.
The way a person responds to stress and deals with it can affect their overall well being and lifestyle.
Signs, Symptoms and Consequences of Stress—
When we experience stress, our bodies react by releasing a surge of chemicals and hormones, this triggers the fight-or-flight response in the bodyand canalso affectnumerous other systems within the body such as; our metabolism, memory, and immune system. Some stress, if effectively dealt with, is unlikely to result in long-term negative effects on your health and well-being, however, chronic stress if left untreated can lead to serious health problems as mentioned below —
1. Insomnia and low energy levels
Stress can cause acute fatigue and disruptions in sleep, which may result in decreased energy levels and eventually the risk of developing insomnia. While it is evident among numerous studies conducted globally, that stress and anxiety can play havoc with one’s sleep cycle, not everyone who experiences stress or is going through a stressful event will necessarily deal with insomnia or sleep issues.
2. Frequent sickness
Stress may be the culprit behind your frequent bouts of sickness. Stress tends to take a toll on your immune system thus increasing your susceptibility to infections on your physical body. However, stress is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to immune health.
The body’s response to stress and anxiety can cause a rise in body temperature and induce excessive sweating. This type of sweating typically appears on the face, palms, soles of the feet, and underarms.
4. Changes in libido
People experiencing high levels of chronic stress are less sexually aroused as compared to those with lower stress levels, experiencing changes in sex drive.
Headaches are identified as a pain in the head, face, or neck region, increased levels and intensity of stress can lead to an increase in the number of headaches or intensity of headaches often times categorized as a migraine. Stress is considered to be one of the main signs and triggers of headaches.
6. Acne and skin issues
One telling reason for the correlation between high levels of stress and increased bouts of acne is because when people feel stressed out, they tend to touch and pick their faces. Another is excessive sweating on the face and back which leads to clogged pores and ducts thus spreading of bacteria that results in acne.
Rashes and skin issues like eczema, psoriasis and hives can be triggered by stressful events and is common with adolescents and adults.
7. Appetite changes, digestive issues and eating disorders
When you feel stressed out, you may find yourself with no appetite at all, starving yourself, binging or overeating without even noticing, causing fluctuations in weight. Stress can also be associated with digestive issues like; constipation, heartburn, diarrhea, as well as eating disorderslike bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, pica and binge eating disorder. Stress can especially affect those with preexisting conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and can lead to worsening of the symptoms of these conditions. Over long periods of time, unhealthy eating practices due to stress can result in various health issues like obesity, undernourishment, and eating disorders.
Depression presents itself as persistent feelings of helplessness, low motivation, self worth, and creativity. Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) affects our thinking, feelings, and behavior and hinders our ability to function in our day to day lives. Studies suggest that chronic stress may be associated with depression and depressive episodes along with othercontributors such as; family history, age, environmental factors, medications and illnesses.
The onset of depression is considered to be significantly associated with both acute and chronic stress and the connection between depression and the experience of chronic or inescapable stress is undeniable and goes hand in hand.
9. Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety is your brain’s way of alerting you to stressful events occurring in your life. Stress and anxiety often overlap, but anxiety has its own classification and is often treated with medication and psychological therapy. If a person does not deal with or react to a stressful event in a timely manner or is unable to manage or deal or controlemotional responses caused by stressors, a person may develop anxiety disorders.These disorders manifest constant fear and worry that obstructs day to day functioning and in the long term if untreated can lead to physical problems such as; panic attacks, panic disorder and PTSD.
Burnout is the consequence of extremely high levels of stress that lead to feelings of psychological, emotional, and physiological exhaustion. Self-doubt and feelings of detachment from the world with an increasingly negative outlook on life are the signs of a burnout.
11. Heart related issues
Going through a stressful event can cause your body to release adrenaline, a hormone that causes your heart to beat faster and your blood pressure to rise causing a rapid heartbeat. Chronic stress results in prolonged periods of heightened adrenaline and cortisol levels, resulting in serious strain on the heart. Stress can act as a catalyst for heart related issues especially among people who genetically suffer from heart disease thus increasing their chances of plaque leading to arterial blockages and heart attacks.
12. Chronic stress and pain
Cortisol, which is the body’s main stress hormone gets activated or can go into overdrive too when the body is experiencing aches or pain.
The physical symptoms of chronic stress are varied and vast and must be dealt with timely and effectively as it can affect your entire body if left untreated, drastically reducing your quality of life; through chronic pain, increased risk of certain diseases, and changes in mental health.
Treatment options and coping mechanisms
As eutopic as it would be to have a magic pill or grandmother’s concoction to completely eliminate stress, there are so many varied factors that cause stress that cookie cut treatments and coping mechanisms are impossible. Consulting a doctor or a therapist is an ideal first step in identifying the stressors in your life. Medical experts can also help you figure out if your symptoms are caused by stress or another pre-existing condition. Once the stressors are identified, managing and treating stress appropriately becomes much easier. Stress can be caused by a variety of issues and symptoms can vary from person to person, thus treating it depends on personal factors.
A few lifestyle changes and choices can help a person manage stress. Some of these include—
- Taking breaks from the negative global news like; the increasing Covid-19 case numbers.
- Taking a break from your electronic devices like computers, phones, television.
- Getting enough sleep (approximately eight hours) and allowing your body to rest can decrease stress levels.
- Exercise and laughter help release endorphins which can lower stress levels.
- Including nutrient-rich foods in your diet and eating healthy foods help your body feel good.
- Deep breathing exercises and meditating aids to relax and calm your mind in turn lower your stress levels.
- Excessive substance use like drugs and alcohol can help lower stress levels as well, though only temporarly.
- Talking with friends, a trusted advisor, or a therapist is advised versus bottling up all your feelings. This will help you work through the stress in your life instead of letting it fester and burden you, especially if you have feelings of self-harm. It is more important to talk to someone who can help you work through the stressful event than letting it consume you.
It is part and parcel of life to encounter occasional stressful events. Working through and processing these events is the key to keeping stress at an arm’s length. Sometimes, the best way to manage your stress involves changing your situation or changing the way you view or react and respond to the situation.
Tune into your feelings
React and seek help
Empathise with yourself
Symptoms need to be monitored not ignored
Strong people stay stress free.