December 19, 2013

Stress seems so common now especially at this time of year, it appears to affect everybody in different ways; some people thrive on it, while others suffer with anxiety and depression. Stress is a person’s response to a situation and is the body’s way to react to a challenge. According to the stressful event, the body’s way to respond to stress is to invoke the fight-or-flight response. (A preprogrammed response to help us survive).

Our brain’s start our response to any kind of stress. During stress the brain secretes various hormones, which stimulates the body’s pituitary gland and initiate a stress response. The brain also has control of our emotions and based on previous memories will enhance, suppress or even generate more stress. There is an area located in the brain-stem which creates serotonin, which plays an important role in mood regulation, particularly when stress is associated with depression and anxiety. This controls the circadian rhythm and sensation of pain among other processes. So this explains why we struggle to sleep or we can’t sleep when we are stressed and have headaches, IBS etc.

The spinal cord transfers the brain’s stress response to the rest of the body, the spinal cord communicates with the rest of the body by talking to the outer nervous system. These in turn engage the body’s major organs and muscles in a fight-or-flight manner. So that’s where the butterflies, stomach churning etc. comes from.

After this we start to produce Cortisol which distributes energy (glucose) to regions of the body that needs it most (i.e., the brain and major muscles during a fight-or-flight situation). As a part of the body’s fight-or-flight response, cortisol also acts to suppress the body’s immune system. Colds and illnesses are caused by this drop in the immune system and just add to the stress. (Babies who receive a lot of cortisol in pregnancy or in infancy will seek stress throughout their lives)

Our brain then starts to process more things as stressful and a circle is created. The easiest things become stressful and we stay in heightened awareness or fight/flight readiness which our bodies were not designed to cope with.

There are a huge number of symptoms of stress here are a few –

* Memory problems

* Poor Judgement

* Anxious or racing thoughts

* Moodiness

* Irritability or short temper

* Agitation, inability to relax

* Aches and pains

* Diarrhoea or constipation

* Increased frequency of urination

* Indigestion

* Sleeping too much or too little

The first thing we need to do to recover from stress is realize we are not going mad, that our reactions are normal. That we need to help ourselves as we will not get better doing what we are doing, spending more time at work, spending more money  etc..

Then it’s time to look after yourself, eat well, sleep well, take some form of exercise (preferably outside), limit alcohol, nicotine and caffeine and learn to relax again .

Be assertive – learn to say no firmly but fairly to everyone who wants to add to your stress, no matter how good they are at convincing you! Set up boundaries about time, money, attention etc. and stick to them.

Take control of the situation; make a plan to remove the stress. Prioritize work by urgency and importance – so if its urgent and important – do it now, if it’s just important – how long can it wait, if it’s just urgent – who else can do it for you and if it’s neither – get rid of it!!If you feel physically ill or tired, stop and take a rest or your body will continue to react and will become seriously ill.

If you are still stressed – tell someone; get some help because as you can see your body and brain will continue to push you if you don’t take action.

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