“Stress is a scientific concept which has suffered from the mixed blessing of being too well known and too little understood”, said Hans Selye, a renowned stress researcher. Stress is a physical, chemical or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental strain which may lead to diseases, and may even increase the chance of accidents. When our capacity of handling stress is not strong and resourceful, the outcome has negative impacts in our life, especially on our health.
Common Signs And Symptoms Of Stress
Sometimes stress may be deeply embedded in your life and you might not even realise its presence, but it silently grows on you while slowly eroding you from within. Therefore, it is important to identify the signs of being stressed at an early stage before they take over your life.
Some signs and symptoms of being stressed out are:
- Overreaction to trivial annoyances
- Obsessive or compulsive behaviour
- Frequent crying
- Feelings of loneliness
- Having suicidal thoughts
- Difficulty in decision making
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Social withdrawal
- Reduced efficiency
- Increased smoking or alcohol use
- Constant fatigue
- Stomach problems
The Stress-Disease Relationship
“Stress can lead to diseases and diseases can cause stress,” it’s an insidious cycle which can cause untimely damage to the mind, body and spirit. Chronic stress, or a constant stress experienced over a prolonged period of time, aggravates medical conditions and contributes to life threatening diseases as well. Here are 7 health issues linked to stress:
- Cardiovascular diseases:Living a stressful life can cause people to adopt poor habits like smoking and eating badly which can trigger the development of cardiovascular diseases. Stress may also contribute to inflammation in the circulatory system and increase the risk for hypertension, heart attack or stroke.
- Obesity: Stress releases higher levels of ‘cortisol’ hormones, which increases the amount of fat stored in the abdomen. Research shows that overeating may be triggered by different stressors in men and women.
- Gastrointestinal issues: Stress is a common factor to all gastrointestinal problems. You may experience heartburn, nausea, pain, vomiting, constipation or diarrhoea, and stomach ulcers, while you are going through stress.
- Weak immune system: Our immune system does not function efficiently when the body’s equilibrium is disturbed due to long- term release of stress hormones and its associated imbalances. Several studies claim that people who are under chronic stress have a low white blood cell count, which makes them more susceptible to infections.
- Skin disorders and unexplained hair loss: Stress may worsen numerous skin conditions, including hives, psoriasis, acne, and rosacea, and it is one of the most common causes of eczema. Hair loss often occurs during periods of intense stress.
- Pain: Muscular pain, joint pain and headaches have been associated with stress. When in stress, muscles tense up and the contraction of muscles for long periods can initiate tension headaches, migraines and various musculoskeletal diseases.
- Sexual and reproductive dysfunction: Stress can lead to loss of sexual desire or performance. Chronic stress also affects fertility and stress during pregnancy has been linked to a higher risk for miscarriage, lower birth weight, and an increased incidence of premature births.
Why Are Some People More Vulnerable To Stress Than Others?
People with low vulnerability need to experience more stress before they become distressed whereas those with high vulnerability need much less stress to reach their tipping point to distress. Researchers have determined a number of stress vulnerability factors:
- Genetics: A person’s genetic makeup also affects his or her vulnerability to stress as suggested by evidence from family studies.
- Coping style: Some people handle stress better than others as they adopt effective coping strategies. These techniques not only help them to cope with stress but also prevent some stress from happening in the first place.
- Thinking style: Stress is something we create and is contingent on how we interpret situations. The perception of people about themselves and the world around them influences the level of stress in their life.
- Environment: The way people deal with stress is also associated with their environment. Some environmental stressors include traffic, noise, pollution and violence.
- Social skills: People with more supportive relationships are less vulnerable to stress. The better a person’s social skills, the better it is for him or her to receive help in the time of need.
How To Reduce Stress?
A healthy lifestyle diminishes the effects of stress and promotes health and longevity. Meditating, exercising, keeping a positive attitude, enjoying a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight are good ways to deal with stress. Synthetic medicines have immediate calming effects; however they are usually not helpful for stress in the long run. A holistic treatment can be a conjunction of herbs, natural therapies, massages, counselling, and so on.
Herbs and natural therapies play a vital role in the health and well- being of the nervous system. Unlike drug therapy, herbs don’t target one expanse of the body but rather sway the entire matrix of the mind, body and spirit. They have a subtle way of handling stress as most of them help to build stamina for us to take charge of situations. There are many excellent herbs and herbal formulas that relieve stress. Some of these herbs include:
- Ashwagandha or Winter cherry: It is rejuvenating, calms the mind, relieves aches and rheumatism. It prevents brain cells against damage and promotes long term cognitive health.
- Jatamasi or Muskroot: Jatamasi is known as a brain tonic, and imparts a sense of calmness and relaxation. It balances the nervous system, lowers blood pressure and is a cardiovascular rejuvenative.
- Shankhapushpi or Dankuni plant: The herb serves to bring a feeling of calm and peace. It stimulates good sleep and helps reduce stress.
- Brahmi or Bacopa: It has a sedative quality which can soothe nerves and restore emotional balance. Studies have found that it enhances memory and focus.
- Chamomile: This wonder herb has gentle calming sedative effects on the nervous system. It supports refreshing and relaxing sleep and is a good muscle relaxer.
Is Stress Always Bad?
Sometimes stress helps us to improve our performance and increase productivity. This is the “good stress”. It is the minute level of stress which generates a positive stimulus in our body and helps in accomplishing goals which perhaps we could not have conquered otherwise. An optimal level of stress is characterized by mental alertness, high motivation, composed under pressure, thorough analysis of problems, improved memory and a generally optimistic outlook. In fact without any stress, our life would be a big bore!
However, as mentioned earlier, greater levels of stress can cause dramatic health problems if it happens for too long and if it is not dealt with in the right manner.
- Stress Management for Life: A Research- Based Experiential Approach ( 2012), :By Michael Olpin, Margie Hesson
- Stress Management Through Ancient Wisdom and Modern Science(2009) – By Umesh Sharma
- American Institute of Stress https://www.stress.org/stress-effects/