8 Severe Signs of Stress
Stress: one of the biggest health threats In modern society
By Dr Julie Moltke
An everyday stress scenario:
Waking up at 6, preparing breakfast for the kids, packing their bags for school, getting them out of the house, rushing to work, the crammed tube is slightly claustrophobic, but by now you have gotten used to it. At work, you have a deadline, your boss is sitting in the same office, and you can feel the adrenalin in your blood and the pulsating sensation in your temples. There isn’t much time for breaks, so you eat some snack bars instead of going down to the canteen for lunch. After work, you do not have time to exercise as the kids need picking up, the clothes need washing, and you are struggling to create something more exotic than pasta with pesto for dinner. It takes you an hour to fall asleep as you cannot help worrying about the next day at work and the social arrangement, that you used to love by now dread, in the weekend ahead. You have lived like this for several months, and you are starting to notice changes in your body:
Symptoms of stress:
• Abdominal weight gain: Cortisol, the primary chronic stress hormone, is known to make you gain weight in the abdominal region(1). Furthermore, stress is associated with bad eating and exercise habits.
• Heart palpitations: Adrenalin, another important acute stress hormone, can cause a fast heart rate and blood pressure(2). It is also involved in creating the symptom below:
• Excessive sweating: Stress-related sweating is coming from different sweat glands than sweat generated by high temperature or exercise(3). It also tends to form bad odours when mixing with bacteria on the skin which is not the most desirable when having that important job interview or exam.
• Impaired memory and insomnia: Chronic stress is known to harm a particular area in the brain called hippocampus involved in memorisation. Long term chronic stress is actually known to reduce the size of this area(4).
• Headache and chronic shoulder and neck pain: When stressed, it is common to have excessive muscle tone, especially in the neck and shoulders. This can cause episodic and chronic headache and neck and shoulder pain (5).
• Depression: The relationship between stress and depression is not entirely sure. But it has been shown that people with major depression often reported both acute and chronic stress at the onset of depression(6)
• Poor immune system: Stress makes you more susceptible to infections as cortisol is known to weaken the immune system(7).
• Low libido: Stress is associated with lower sex-drive(8), which in turn can add to the perceived stress level as a feeling of guilt and a bad self-image take over.
Ways to deal with stress
These are all signs of what you are experiencing too much stress in your life and your body begging you to slow down. Luckily there are things you can do to help the situation:
• Lower your expectations: Be kind to yourself when going through stressful times. Don’t expect that you can have social arrangements every weekend. It is okay to say no.
• Breath: it sounds too easy. But focusing on your breath for a few minutes, breathing deep into your stomach, may be enough to lower your stress hormones and make you feel less stressed. Deep belly breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system which is “rest and digest” system that can slow you down.
• Take breaks at work: They may be only 5 minutes, but they will allow your brain the calm down and keep you more focused.
• Be assertive in your communication: Say what you need firmly and respectfully; It is okay to say no.
• Take a walk in nature: inspect the small wonders of the natural world: get out of your head and into the fresh air, it works every time.
• Sign up for a mindfulness course: Mindfulness-based stress reduction is shown countless studies to reduce stress after 8 weeks of practice.