The Effects of Stress and How to Cope
Updated: Dec 11, 2020
Everyone needs a certain amount of stress or pressure to live well. Good stress, also called eustress, is what motivates us to get out of bed in the morning and propel us forward to get things done, ultimately helping us to accomplish our goals by keeping us focussed, energetic and alert. Stress becomes problematic when there's too much or too little. A lack of stress means you are under-stimulated and lack motivation to get things done and too much stress means eventually you will start to feel the adverse effects of it on your health.
The physical effects of stress
Modern day living involves a continuous bombardment of short bursts of stress known as acute stress: being stuck in traffic, an irate argument with your boss; pressure of meeting deadlines; financial worries; social media anxiety; sudden calls for crisis management concerning our teenage children or elderly parents; the list is endless. Stress is primarily a physical response. The body thinks when undergoing stress that it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode prompting a number of physiological reactions to take place. The brain is perceiving danger and starts to release a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine as it thinks it needs to prepare the body for physical action. The Sympathetic Nervous System kicks in causing the heart to beat faster and harder, the muscles to tense, the digestive system to slow down, a disruption in our blood sugar levels and an increase in our blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Of course, if the nervous system is continuously being activated to initiate the above reactions due to continuous episodes of acute stress then this becomes chronic stress. This naturally causes a drain on the mind and body, weakening our immune defences. It is no surprise therefore that eventually due to this continuous wear and tear on the body, illness and pain can manifest.
The psychological effects of stress
As well as the above physiological effects upon the bodily systems, intense and prolonged bouts of stress will also affect us psychologically. When stress impairs our immune system this makes us more prone to catching infections, which can lead to unhappiness and possibly anxiety and depression. Intense stress can cause us to feel anger, irritability, moodiness, overwhelm, loneliness, distrust and fear which can ultimately destroy work and personal relationships. Other psychological effects of stress can include: memory problems; inability to concentrate; poor judgement; constant worrying. People under intense stress may display any of the following behavioural patterns: eating and sleeping too much/too little; procastinating or neglecting responsibilities; turning to drugs/alcohol/cigarette for relaxation or withdrawing socially from others.
Some Coping Mechanisms for Stress
If the Sympathetic Nervous System is what directs the body's involuntary response to stressful situations, then our goal is to activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System to help counter the adverse effects of the above and calm everything right down.
If you feel you are constantly stressed and have possibly experienced adverse health issues as a result, then here are some strategies that will help:
Learn to accept what you cannot change and stop obsessing over trivialities of life. You cannot change traffic problems so no point in obsessing over it and working yourself up into a state. Just take some deep slow breaths and play some music.
Engage in physical activity - physical exercise can help to release endorphins in the body to counter the excessive stress hormones and restore your body and mind to a calmer, more relaxed state.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine - Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants which put your body in a heightened state rather than calm it down and alcohol in large quantities acts as a depressant. Staying hydrated with water and herbal teas enables the body to in a heightened state rather than calm it down and alcohol in large quantities acts as a depressant. Staying hydrated with water and herbal teas enables the body to cope better with stress.
Eat a healthy balanced diet – lots of fruit and vegetables and natural wholesome food and a reduction in processed food provides power nutrients for the body and prevents it from having fluctuations in blood sugar levels which play havoc with energy levels and moods.
Get more sleep – lack of sleep can cause stress and too much stress can also interfere with sleep. Having at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night should be the aim in order to rejuvenate the body and mind as a tired body and mind will only fuel the already existing stressful condition.
Talk to Someone – it can help to talk to talk to someone about your problems in order to offload as stress can cloud your judgement and prevent you from seeing things clearly. Talking things through with a friend, work colleague, or even a trained professional, can help you find solutions to your stress and put your problems into perspective.
Therapeutic Journaling – there is increasing evidence that negative emotions and experiences can ultimately lead to stress-induced illnesses, including chronic pain. This is due to unhealthy obsessing and ruminating over negative thought patterns instead of learning to accept, release and let go. Expressive writing, involving offloading and reflecting over past and present negative experiences has proven to be an effective tool.
Relaxation Techniques - try to incorporate yoga, meditation, Emotional Freedom Technique, mindfulness , long hot soak with calming music– any of these or others into your regular routine to help you relax and declutter the mind and soul.
Learn to say no – sometimes we just need to be able to say no to taking on too much responsibility at work or outside work so that we do not become overwhelmed and feel suffocated with a burden that is difficult to manage.