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STRESS, ANXIETY & YOU

I know we see and read a lot about Stress and Anxiety but given my recent reminder of the effects on someone close, I wanted to summarise what it means, how over exposure physically manifests and why and how you can control it. Awareness is key as is knowing that you can counteract it but must choose to.


Stress is a normal reaction to exciting events like falling in love, getting a new job, or buying a home. Its also a hardwired survival technique built into your body as a means of protection. When triggers arise, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) signals the “fight or flight” response, which mobilises you to take action and avoid danger.


The issue is that your body doesn’t know the difference between a bear chasing you and work / life related anxiety. Your bodies stress response is perfectly healthy when there is a real emergency but if your body is constantly getting stressed signals from every day issues (such as work or family related anxiety) YOU WILL BURN OUT over time. Trust me, I have been there a few times…


STRESS RESPONSE STAGES:


ALARM Stage - your body goes into panic mode, your SNS is activated to protect you from stress and your brain triggers the adrenal gland to secrete hormones, like cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline). The rest of your body is then alerted to the symptoms, equipping you with emergency fuel and energy in reaction to your panic. Body effects to be mindful of :

  • increased pulse and respiration stress (check your breathing);

  • High blood pressure;

  • Increase of blood sugars and blood fats (bodies means of getting emergency fuel);

  • Excessive sweating and pupil dilation.


ADAPTIVE / Resistant stage- after the initial stress response, your body attempts to return to homeostasis (it’s stable state) but when your stress reactions are too strong or triggered too often your body will remain on high alert. As a result of this constant stress, your body builds up a resistance and tolerance to coexist with continuous stresses. This extended release of stress hormones has adverse effects on your body, lowering your immunity defences and making you more susceptible to illness e.g colds, flu, stomach bugs, coldsores (my personal favourite!). Body effects to be mindful of :

  • Mood changes, including anger and depression and lack of energy and sleep issues;

  • Reduced ability recover from illness due to lower immunity;

  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate, higher cholesterol and risk of heart attack;

  • Stomach cramps, reflux, and nausea (your digestive system shuts down effecting hormones and immunity);

  • Increased fat storage and disrupted hunger queues;

  • Loss of libido, lower sperm production in men, and absence of regular menstrual cycles in women

  • Aches and pains in the joints and muscles and lower bone density.

EXHAUSTION stage - when the body continues to function in this wired state, never fully returning to a rest state, your emergency resources are depleted and your body starts to shut down. This final burn out stage represents your body’s inability to cope with continuously high demands. After all it’s not natural to constantly feel like your being chased by a bear or fighting a fire.


BREAKING THE CYCLE


Just as the sympathetic nervous system turns on the fight or flight response, the PARAsympathetic nervous system turns it off. The ability to go from “Fight or flight” to “Rest & Digest” is critical for your well-being.


Unfortunately, in todays fast paced society, a return to relaxation doesn’t occur promptly for most people. When we are all running around in panic mode from everyday worries, chronic stress is disrupting the natural balance required for optimal health, speeding up the ageing process, and increasing the body susceptibility to illness. Finding ways to activate the relaxation response is vital.


TECHNIQUES TO REDUCE STRESS


  1. Practise calming activities like meditation and or light movement such as walking (the dog can help here), yoga or pilates - its a great way to start the day and / or use a lunch break;

  2. Organise your work and living spaces to be clutter free, peaceful environments - addition of plants and / or the ability to spend some time in a quieter space throughout the day if working in an open office;.

  3. Take breaks - please don’t eat at your desk. Take the time to walk away for a few minutes when feeling overwhelmed and ensure you use that lunch break away from work;

  4. Note the amount of caffeine and sugary drinks you are consuming - this is known to increase stress on the body, increase heart rate and remember you already have sugar in the blood;

  5. Plan your schedule using a daily or weekly planner - don’t leave the “To Do” list in your head, writing it down automatically gives you one less stress of remembering;

  6. Prioritise your tasks and focus on one thing at a time - list tasks and circle the top 1-5 tasks to get done in the day. You can’t always do everything - remember its natural for things to come up to disrupt your day or things to take longer to complete;

  7. Delegate tasks when ever possible if you feel overwhelmed and don’t be afraid to ask for help;

  8. Exercise in any form can also be a great way to release stress but be careful not to overdo if you are already in stress state;

  9. Shut down before bed - sleep is so important so try and avoid exposure to TV, Phones, laptops etc at least 1hr before bed - read a book instead.

As I mentioned above the most important thing is awareness, be aware of how your body is feeling and know that its within your control to move your body into a state of calm. Even incorporating 1-2 of the above into your daily routine will make a huge difference.



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