What causes stress?
From the pressures of social media to constant work deadlines, unfortunately there are many ways modern life can cause stress to the body. Even though stress is often thought of negatively it can however, come from a positive source like a new relationship, changing jobs or even going on holiday. Of course, the issue can be more complicated. A problem causing stress for one person might not for another. Some might not even realise the problem of stress applies to them.
What is stress?
You may have heard of the ‘fight or flight’ response but do you know how it relates to everyday stress and the resulting emotions?
This particular response derives from the very early days of human existence when it was needed as a means to defend the body against external threats like wild animals. Today we might not need to fight off bears or wolves but modern day stressors can be just as scary and so the ‘fight and flight’ response is still very much active. The process goes like this.
- The threat, or stressor, is identified.
- Blood is diverted to the brain, heart, lungs and muscles as these are the parts of the body that will need to do the work to get you out of danger.
- The body produces adrenaline to pump blood quickly to these parts of the body. This then makes the heart beats faster.
- Blood vessels constrict to raise blood pressure for the same reason.
- Breathing speeds up as oxygen must also reach these parts of the body quickly.
- Senses become more acute to pick up as much information as possible from your surroundings and help make good decisions.
As mentioned already, the ‘fight or flight’ response makes your heart pump faster. This response is useful when there is an immediate danger but when it happens in relation to stress it is draining on the body and emotions. Plus, an increased pulse rate is very common when you’re anxious so it is no wonder you feel this emotion when stressed.
Dealing with stress is a challenge so, rather than ask you to eliminate it from your life completely, here are a few practical things that might help.
Stretches are calming and will help distract your mind for a while. You could also try some breathing techniques to give your mind another focus and help your body unwind from the day to day stresses it has endured.
Alternatively, AvenaCalm is a licensed herbal remedy that is useful when suffering from mild stress and anxiety. These things will not take your stresses away but they may ease them a little to help your feel less anxious and more relaxed.
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Have you recently found yourself yelling about trivial things like your pen running out or the cat leaving paw prints in the hall? Although not exclusive to the issue of stress, general frustration and unexplained anger can all be emotional signs of it.
If you’re prone to anger then stress can make it worse but even a normally calm person may feel short-tempered when they’re stressed. With pressure mounting, it needs to be released somehow, even if that’s on the people (and animals) you love.
This anger may be linked to sleep which is often cut short when the mind is racing with stressful thoughts. Therefore, without looking at the source of stress, a helpful way forward might be to address your sleeping pattern. Create a bed time routine whereby you wind down and go to sleep at the same time each night. It might not take away the stress but it will aid sleep to help you feel more refreshed during the day time.
Low mood, when associated with stress, can range from depression to general unhappiness. These feelings can be long-lasting or short and intermittent. Your mood suffers when you’re stressed because of the overwhelming nature of challenging events. Your mind becomes consumed by thoughts relating to the stressor and the outside world can seem less relevant.
The best way forward would be to find and address the source of stress. Talking about your life with another person is something everyone can do. It will help unload worries and if you’re not sure what the source of stress actually is then this might help uncover it. Friends, family and colleagues are usually the first point of call for comfort but, alternatively, you could visit your GP. They’ll listen in a non-judgemental manner and may even be able to offer further support elsewhere.
Stress is often all-consuming which is why memory loss becomes a problem. With your focus going towards the troublesome issues, there is less space for your mind to process the things going on around you. The distraction means your memory is less effective.
On a more technical note, stress hormones are known to affect the prefrontal cortex which controls things like memory, attention and decision-making.1 Therefore, it’s no surprise if you’re feeling a bit forgetful when under a lot of stress.
In this instance exercise might be helpful as it has been shown to increases alertness and concentration.2 It also allows your mind to focus on something other than the stressor which can only be positive.
Feeling unsettled, worried, harassed and being unable to concentrate are all common emotions when you’re stressed. Earlier in the article I said that when a threat is present ‘fight or flight’ makes your senses more acute because your body knows it needs to get as much information as possible from its surroundings. This is why you may get agitated when under stress.
So, how might you address this particular symptom of stress? We offer a range of Bach Flower Remedies, which includes our relaxing essence, that may prove useful when you’re feeling agitated. This product helps you to unwind after the day-to-day stresses.
As we know by now, stress manifests itself in many different ways and becoming more emotional is another. Crying over spilt milk literally becomes a problem.
We all need to release the build-up of stress at some point and so crying can be positive. However, if it’s regular and hindering your day-to-day life it’s time to recognise there’s a problem.
When you’re feeling vulnerable and tense it’s important to stay clear of things like cigarettes, coffee and sugary snacks that you might think will see you through a stressful period. These might give you a ‘quick fix’ but once that hit passes you’ll be left at square one or, worse, craving more. Instead, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and eat foods that will give you long-lasting energy like fruit and veg - because being healthy is one small step towards feeling healthy.
If you were to face a ‘fight or flight’ threat like a tiger for example, your mind would not contemplate other things like what to have for dinner or what to do tomorrow. At that moment the tiger is the biggest problem so that’s all your body can think about. Similarly, the ‘fight or flight’ response means stresses at work or at home become the minds only focus because they are the biggest immediate threat. Therefore, loneliness can become a problem, even when your life is full of people, because of the overwhelming nature of stress.
Moving forward, take things slow but do have a look at what your life involves right now. Are you spending enough time with family and friends? Perhaps it’s time to re-organise your time to be able to see them more. Are you working too much with the result being that you’re feeling cut off from those around you? Maybe you need to take a short break. Loneliness is a significant issue and not one that is easily solved. If changing your routine does not help it’s probably best to visit your GP for professional advice.
Orginally published 22/02/18, updated 02/08/18