relieving stress and burnout
Dr Jess says: Stress is a word that nearly all my patients use at some point, to describe how they are feeling, or what has caused their symptoms. A terrifying three in every four people in the UK have felt so stressed in the past year, that they have felt unable to cope. Although stress is more commonly expressed by women, men experience similar feelings, but are less likely to seek help.
With so many of us struggling, learning how to deal with stress and truly switch off should, in my opinion, be a regular lesson in school, from early childhood.
When you feel more relaxed and in control, life is much more fun, and you aren’t tipped over the edge by triggers, like running late or an unexpected bill, and you learn to build a reserve tank, to help you prepare for life’s ups and downs.
The tips below really work, but you have to do them regularly. Just as you have to maintain your car or your home, you also have to continue to evaluate your workload and stress levels, and balance them with ways to cope.
Stress management is likely the most important tool you can develop for your life to improve your long-term health. In my experience of my own life and that of my patients, it doesn’t matter how good you are with healthy eating, exercise or vitamin supplements – if you are experiencing chronic levels of high stress, it will inevitably damage your health.
what is stress?
Stress is the way your body responds to threats or the demands placed upon it. Stress can be mental, emotional, physical or chemical, like infections, pollution or even extremes of heat or cold. However, we most commonly use the word to mean mental and emotional stress; a feeling of unmanageable pressure upon us. There are three types of stress reaction:
Acute (sudden trauma): When we first feel or experience stress, our body reacts in a pre-programmed way and begins to release hormones and chemicals which create physical, mental and emotional reactions in our body. This initial response is called an ‘acute stress reaction’ and is commonly known as ‘fight or flight’.
This mechanism kicks in as a result of sudden, intense trauma or shock, like the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, the breakup of a relationship, or through experiencing violence against us. The hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline are released, heart and breathing rates increase, the pupils dilate and there is heightened anxiety, detachment or numbness. We feel on full alert. Blood flow in the body moves to the arm and leg muscles so we can run away or fight, and diverts energy away from the digestion and urinary systems, which aren’t needed urgently at that moment.
Episodic: When acute stress happens regularly, it is called episodic stress. Those people who are always having a crisis, or with multiple regular traumas, where ‘everything that can go wrong, does’, can be experiencing episodic stress.
These people can become pessimistic and only see the negative side of life. They can struggle to organise and order the demands of their lives, taking on more and more, until it becomes chaotic and self-fulfilling. Stress becomes part of this personality, and they can believe it is necessary to have stress to keep going. ‘Type A’ personalities could be described as episodic stress seekers, and this way of living can be difficult to change.
Chronic (long-term): When acute stress is ongoing for a long period of time, or many demands are made on the body and mind for long periods, it becomes chronic. Causes include long-term financial difficulties, abusive or difficult relationships, health problems, bullying or difficulty at work. Those who have experienced adverse childhood events (ACEs) like abuse or neglect are much more likely to suffer from chronic stress.
One in five people in the UK suffers from work-related stress. In fact, money and work are the top two causes of stress in the under 55’s. These two factors, along with relationships, time poverty, health problems and demands of family life can all be major causes of stress.
When we are under long-term stress, we release large levels of cortisol from our adrenal glands. Cortisol has a necessary role in our bodies, regulating blood sugar and the immune system and it has wide-ranging effects throughout the body. Unfortunately, continued high levels of cortisol from stress can have a big impact on our health. In fact, long-term stress is likely more dangerous than smoking.
are you suffering from stress?
Common symptoms or conditions associated with excessive stress include:
- Feeling overwhelmed, tearful or struggling to cope
- Irritable or angry, with a short fuse
- Poor memory and concentration
- Panic attacks
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Insomnia and sleep problems
- High blood pressure
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Frequent illnesses or infections
- Digestive problems
- Weight gain
- Headaches and shoulder or neck tension
- Hormonal problems
- Teeth grinding
how do you diagnose stress?
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