Stress is usually thought of as bad for you, though it is an essential part of being human. Scientists have long known that the condition is caused by the brain releasing certain chemicals – adrenaline, cortisol etc. – for a very good reason: survival. But this is in reference to the “fight or flight” dilemma of primitive humans faced with the dangers of the natural world they shared with all kinds of predators and situations against which they had little defence or preparedness. Unfortunately, evolution has not progressed as quickly as civilisation, so our physiological reactions are founded in pre-history, despite the situations we now deal being more complex and less often life-threatening. Modern causes of stress will likely be due to more subtle scenarios than facing down a sabre-toothed tiger, yet the physiological effects are the same. And, unless they have some way to dissipate, they pile up and cause mental and physical problems.
Typically, we can find ourselves stressed at home or at work and we often fail to notice the build-up. Thinking we can or ought to take it all in our stride, we carry on until the symptoms begin to tell us something’s wrong. The causes are numerous and often subtle, and the effects can be serious enough to lead to illness – both mental and physical – or very sadly even suicide. So, it is crucial for us to recognise the symptoms and practise ways of coping with them. Once we understand what is happening, it is within our ability control the outcome. So, are you stressed from time to time? How would you know? How would you deal with it?
If you suspect something is not right, the first thing to do is make an assessment. The symptoms vary from one person to another, depending on which are our weaker points, but prolonged cognitive, emotional or physical changes will be a signal that your system is under pressure. Here is a list for guidance.
On the cognitive side of things, the tell-tale things to look out for are: poor judgement; inability to concentrate; brain fog; indecision; starting too many tasks; and self-doubt. A noticeable recurrence of these should not be ignored.
When it comes to emotions, these too are subject to upset when stressed. Stop and think whether you are becoming unduly moody, irritable, fatalistic, cynical, anxious, panicky and feeling overwhelmed. If so, then it’s time to take a break.
And be aware of your physical condition. Things to look out for are a rapid heartbeat, noticeable aches and pains, frequent colds, indigestion, skin complaints and high blood pressure
Of course, we all have bad days and can identify with some of these symptoms from time-to-time, but when the effects are prolonged or recurring, we know it’s time to take action. If you can’t remove the cause of the stress (first option), then at least you can manage your condition so as to be best able to cope. As a sort of ‘first aid’, remember that the inevitable link between mind and body means that the quickest way to change your psychology is to change your physiology. Try smiling and adopting an upright posture and feel how the physical changes improve your mood. It is also known that social isolation (spending too long at work?) can exacerbate the condition. When it comes to de-stressing, the company of others is a true tonic.
For longer term defence against stress, the advice is to adopt a positive mindset; eat for wellbeing; get a good night’s sleep; keep physically fit; practice deep breathing; master your time; master your tech; and learn to say no. These are all tried and tested techniques and there is plenty of help and support available, such as at the Stress Management Society website. Try to reserve your adrenaline and cortisol releases for times when you really need them!
Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash