Stress – Why Does It Happen And How Can We Manage It?
A recent survey found that about one in 10 people living in the United Kingdom “feel stressed all of the time”.
Other surveys have reported that 3 in 4 UK citizens have felt so stressed within the past year that they were “unable to cope”.
Stress is clearly a widespread issue within the United Kingdom.
It is also an issue that must be addressed as quickly as possible because it can have a dramatic impact on a person’s quality of life — adversely affecting both their physical and mental well-being.
This guide will explain why stress happens and how it can be managed.
These simple tips will help you deal with the stress you experience before it can negatively impact your life.
What is stress?
When a person encounters a perceived threat (real or imagined, physical or mental), the body’s stress response is triggered.
The stress response causes a cascade of physiological changes including:
- Cortisol, adrenaline, epinephrine, noradrenaline, and other “stress hormones” are released to increase alertness and reaction time
- Breathing becomes rapid and shallow
- Heart rate and blood pressure increase (as a result of the release of stress hormones)
- Glucose is released into the bloodstream for energy
- Muscles become tense
- The way you think changes, with certain parts of the brain becoming more active
- Certain bodily functions are deprioritised, including metabolic functions and the digestion of food
The changes made to the body by stress isn’t always a bad thing.
They can help you escape dangerous situations or give you additional mental and physical energy for performing under pressure.
However, stress should be a temporary state of being.
When a life-threatening and stressful situation passes, the body should return to normal and you should feel calm again.
Stress only becomes dangerous when you spend a significant amount of time in a stressed state.
Unfortunately, many people living in the UK experience stress from issues that aren’t life threatening.
They include money concerns, problems at work, health concerns, failure to get enough sleep, and household chores.
Being stressed about these daily events can quite exhausting for the body and can trigger a range of side effects including:
- Tension headaches, migraines, and bodily aches (caused by the body tensing up)
- Chest pain (caused by overstimulation and stress hormones)
- Fatigue (cause by over stimulation of adrenal glands)
- Sleep problems (primarily caused by excessive adrenaline levels)
- Upset stomach
- Lack of focus (caused by changes to the brain during stress)
Stress can also cause a person to change their behaviour.
They may begin to overeat or undereat, abuse drugs and alcohol, become socially withdrawn, or develop bad habits.
Eventually, the side effects of being constantly stressed can lead to some very serious chronic health problems including:
The stress response increases blood sugar levels so you have additional energy to escape a threat.
Unfortunately, constantly having elevated blood sugar can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.
High blood sugar levels can increase the likelihood of obesity.
The stress response also changes how food is metabolised and deprioritises digestive functions, which can also cause weight gain.
The changes made to the body caused by stress have been shown to contribute to high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and other risk factors for having heart disease.
Anxiety and depression
Stress is linked with a range of mental illnesses including anxiety and depression.
Asthma can be worsened by chronic stress.
How can you manage stress?
Fortunately, there are many techniques available which have been proven to effectively reduce stress.
Some of the best techniques include:
Socialising with friends and family
Spending time with friends and family is an excellent way to reduce your stress levels.
Face-to-face conversations are useful because they can trigger hormones that relieve the symptoms of stress.
Conversations with loved ones can also help you discuss any feelings that are causing you to become stressed.
If your relationships are causing you stress, seek out connections with other people by joining a club or sporting group.
Exercise has been proven to reduce stress levels.
When you exercise, the body release endorphins — a mild analgesic to numb any pain you are experiencing.
Endorphins will give you a pleasant feeling that can ease the symptoms of stress.
Researchers also believe that endorphins mediate adrenaline and glucagon release that occurs during stress.
Exercising regularly will also boost your mood and counteract the anxiety and negative feelings associated with stress.
Relaxation techniques including meditation, yoga, tai chi, and massage therapy are all proven to relieve the symptoms of stress.
As an added bonus, these techniques can also help you avoid or manage other chronic illnesses like insomnia, heart disease, asthma, depression, high blood pressure, and post traumatic stress disorder.
Set aside time for hobbies
Even if you lead a very busy life, it is important to set aside some time each day for your hobbies.
The hobbies for reducing stress are ones that require you to be active.
Spend your spare time on hobbies like painting, reading, talking, and doing things instead of simply watching television or playing video games.
Eat a healthy diet
The food that you eat can affect how stressed you become.
A diet high in caffeine, sugar and processed foods can worsen stress significantly.
Conversely, a diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, legumes, nuts, fish, and lean meat can reduce the symptoms of stress.
Get plenty of sleep
The human body uses the time you spend sleeping to perform some important biological processes.
This includes the removal of waste, digestions of food, and balancing of hormones.
Some of these process can help to reduce your stress levels, so get plenty of sleep (ideally 7 to 8 hours per night).
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