The word stress is usually used to describe the feelings that people experience when the demands made on them are greater than their ability to cope. At such times people can often feel overloaded, under tremendous pressure and very tense or emotional. Stress affects everyone, young and old and is a completely normal reaction that all human beings will experience from time to time when faced with situations that they feel under pressure in.
The symptoms of stress are varied, ranging from physical to psychological and behavioural. Some people may experience these to varying degrees. Physical symptoms can include; increased heart rate, sweaty palms, muscle tension, sleep disturbance, fatigue, vomiting, change in breathing patterns, dry mouth, headaches, nausea or dizziness, indigestion or heartburn and sudden weight loss or gain.
Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure.
Pressure turns into stress when you feel unable to cope. People have different ways of reacting to stress, so a situation that feels stressful to one person may be motivating to someone else. Many of life’s demands can cause stress, particularly work, relationships and money problems. And, when you feel stressed, it can get in the way of sorting out these demands, or can even affect everything you do.
Stress can affect how you feel, think, behave and how your body works. In fact, common signs of stress include sleeping problems, sweating, loss of appetite and difficulty concentrating.
You may feel anxious, irritable or low in self-esteem, and you may have racing thoughts, worry constantly or go over things in your head. You may notice that you lose your temper more easily, drink more or act unreasonably.
You may also experience headaches, muscle tension or pain, or dizziness. Stress causes a surge of hormones in your body. These stress hormones are released to enable you to deal with pressures or threats – the so-called “fight or flight” response.
Once the pressure or threat has passed, your stress hormone levels will usually return to normal. However, if you’re constantly under stress, these hormones will remain in your body, leading to the symptoms of stress.
When our body goes into a state of stress we may feel disproportionately agitated and aggressive towards others. This is because our bodies naturally go into a state of fight readiness, which can be a helpful reaction to ward off predators. In most situations of our modern day lives, however, it can negatively affect relationships and even ruin reputations.
Another natural reaction is to go into a state of flight, which can be a useful mode of survival, for example, when we find ourselves in dangerous surroundings. In everyday life, however, we are often unable to run away and when we do, we realise that the stressor is quick to catch up with us.
For some people, becoming stressed sets the stage for feeling frozen by fear. In this case, the energy mobilised by the perceived threat gets locked into the nervous system and we freeze. This response sometimes reveals itself when we breathe. Holding our breath and shallow breathing are both forms of freeze. The occasional deep sigh is the nervous system catching up on its oxygen intake.
If you have problems with sleeping this reduces the capacity to cope with problems that inevitably come along. You can cope with them much better when you sleep well. Find out how many hours of sleep you need. Everyone is different but recommended for adults six and a half to nine hours. Many believe that one hour before midnight is worth two hours after midnight.
Develop a routine if possible. Go to bed at the same time each night. Preceding with this a good bedtime routine. For example, avoid activities that stimulate the brain. Everyone has their own way of relaxing.
• Have a relaxing bath.
• Avoid anything stimulating like exciting TV programmes or games.
• When you’re lying in bed use some breathing exercises to help drop off to sleep.
If you’re worrying excessively about things try writing them down. This will help set them aside reassured that you can attend to them in the morning.
Breathing exercises are a very good way of relaxing the body. There are many techniques that will help and can be found on the internet.
One example is where you take a deep breath in through your nose. Feel the air enter your lungs, chest and as belly expands, slowly breathe out. Do this again. To help focus the mind, you can count each breath in and the next breath out until you reach number 10 and then start again. This can really help in the middle of a panic as well as reducing levels of anxiety over time.
There’s a solution to any problem. If you remain passive, thinking, ‘I can’t do anything about my problem’, your stress will get worse. That feeling of loss of control is one of the main causes of stress and lack of wellbeing.
The act of taking control is in itself empowering, and it’s a crucial part of finding a solution that satisfies you and not someone else.