What is Stress
Stress can occur when we experience change in our environment or our routines. Healthy stress can result in motivation and a drive to reach a goal. It can also assist with intensifying focus and increasing mental alertness. Unhealthy stress occurs when a goal or situation is perceived as 'unobtainable' or 'insurmountable'. In this instance stress levels can rise and result in us feeling anxious, tense, distressed or out of control. When these symptoms are experienced it is difficult or even impossible for us to retain focus clearly on the task or situation at hand.
Fight or Flight Response
When experiencing stress our body's reaction is called the 'fight or flight' response. It is a primitive, self protecting reaction which prepares the body to 'stay and fight' or 'run from danger'. During the 'fight or flight' response the body enters a heightened state of arousal, due to the levels of adrenaline and other hormones in the body. Our bodies can remain in this heightened state for hours. Fidgeting, pacing, tapping of fingers or feet are subconscious ways that our body attempts to disperse this energy. Following, are some of the changes that occur in our bodies as a reaction to the 'flight or fight response'.
- Increase in heart rate due to release of adrenalin
- Breathing speeds up and becomes shallower as lungs work harder
- Brain chemistry is altered (we perceive all around us as potential danger, our thoughts are irrational)
- Immune system decreases
- Hot and cold flushes
- Perception of pain diminishes
- Saliva decreases
- Feeling of nausea or "sick" feeling in stomach
- Digestion slows
Levels of stress fluctuate between individuals depending on our coping skills. Coping skills and responses to stress vary depending on genetic factors and also environmental factors and influences.
Negative thought patterns, learned behaviour and personality characteristics can affect the frequency with which we experience stress and also the levels that are experienced. For instance if we have unrealistic expectations, or are self critical, we may experience high levels of stress. Continual worry or attempts to please another can also place us under stress.
Lifestyle choices can have a big impact on stress in our life. Overloaded schedules, worry about finances, insufficient sleep, and excess use of caffeine, tobacco, alcohol and drugs can create physical and psychological stress.
There are many other causes of stress but major life events such as the death of a family member or friend, new baby, moving house, accident or major illness, or new job, can take their toll emotionally and physically and stretch our coping skills and resources to their limit.
SYMPTOMS OF STRESS
- Decrease in concentration, focus and memory
- Loss of sense of humor
- Low self esteem
- Racing jumbled thoughts
- Mind going blank
- Lack of motivation
- Mood swings
- Blaming / defensiveness
- Nervous habits (nail biting, finger or foot tapping)
- Change in appetite
- Aggressive or subdued behaviour
- Increase in alcohol consumption
- Increase in smoking
- Loss of libido
- Muscle tension (common in neck and shoulders)
- Heart palpitations
- Low immunity to colds etc…
Exposure to stress over prolonged periods can lead to a number of health problems. It is important to become aware of when we are feeling stressed, to recognize the symptoms and then learn to recognize the 'triggers' of our stress. Increasing our awareness of our symptoms and triggers enables us to develop the skills to deal with stress in our lives and implement changes that will enable us to move through stressful situations with a sense of calmness and control.
YOU CAN LEARN TO REDUCE STRESS IN YOUR LIFE. If you would like to learn more about how you can improve your coping skills and manage stressful situations, you can contact Victoria by telephone or email.