“Stress is nothing more than a socially acceptable form of mental illness.”
– Richard Carlson
We all sometimes talk about stress, and feel stressed, usually when we feel we have too much to do and too much on our minds, or other people are making unreasonable demands on us, or we are dealing with situations that we do not have control over.
Stress is not a medical diagnosis
However severe stress that continues for a long time may lead to a diagnosis of depression or anxiety, or more severe mental health problems.
What are the symptoms of stress?
When you are stressed, your body produces more of the so-called ‘fight or flight’ chemicals which prepare your body for an emergency. Adrenaline and noradrenaline raise your blood pressure, increase your heart rate and increase the rate at which you perspire. They can also reduce blood flow to your skin and reduce your stomach activity. Cortisol releases fat and sugar into your system (but also reduces the efficiency of your immune system). All these changes are our body’s way of making it easier for you to fight or run away.
Unfortunately these changes are less helpful if you are stuck in a busy office or on an overcrowded train. You can’t fight and you can’t run away. Because of this, you can’t use up the chemicals your own body has produced to protect you. Over time these chemicals and the changes they produce can seriously damage your health.
For example, you may start to experience headaches, nausea and indigestion. You may breathe more quickly, perspire more, have palpitations or suffer from various aches and pains. Longer term you may be putting yourself at risk from heart attacks and strokes.
When you are stressed you may experience many different feelings, including anxiety, fear, anger, frustration and depression. These feelings can feed on each other and can themselves produce physical symptoms, making you feel even worse. Extreme anxiety can cause giddiness, heart palpitations, headaches or stomach disorders. Many of these symptoms may make you feel so unwell that you then worry that you have some serious physical conditions such as heart disease or cancer – making you even more stressed.
When you are stressed you may behave differently. For example, you may become withdrawn, indecisive or inflexible. You may not be able to sleep properly. You may be irritable or tearful all the time. There may be a change in your sexual habits. Even if you were previously mild-mannered, you may suddenly become verbally or physically aggressive.
Long-term negative effects of stress
- imbalances of blood sugar
- increase in abdominal fat storage
- suppressed thyroid activity
- decreased bone density
- decreased muscle mass
- high blood pressure
- lowered immunity
- less able to think clearly
International Stress Management Association (previously named the American Association for the Advancement of Tension Control (AAATC) and founded in 1974) is an organization with global reach that promotes best practice in the prevention and reduction of human stress.
A key to manage stress is to realise that it is you who is in control of your life. Just like you are under control of what you do, eat, and so forth, you are able to manage your stress level. Stress management is all about controlling your thoughts, attitude and emotions.
Unhealthy work-life balance has a negative impact on your mental well-being.
Nevertheless, being stressed and under pressure can sometimes lead to positive results. According to the research, a moderate level of stress makes us perform better as well as it makes us more alert and can help us perform better in situations such as job interviews or public speaking.
“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.”
I also recommend reading one of my recent blogs about Mindfulness, which explains why relaxation is very important and how you can become more sensitive to the way you think about experiences and reduce stress and anxiety.