A recent research study from Medibank shows that Australians are feeling more stressed than ever, resulting in a lack of sleep, higher work pressures and even social media playing a role in stress. The study indicted that about a third of population (roughly 4.9 million people) have extremely high amount of stress in their lives.
Stress is a significant factor with anxiety and depression and other mental health problems. Stress is also linked to physical health conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, insomnia, diabetes, obesity and other digestive problems.
While a certain amount of stress in everyday life is normal, frequently feeling extremely stressed can lead to serious physical and mental health problems.
As well as everyday stresses, such as work, finances and relationships, there are many unexpected things that can contribute to how we cope in every day life. The death of a loved one, divorce or separation and even positive life events like moving home or starting a new job can be a source of stress.
What is stress?
Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—the body’s defences kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction or the “stress response.”
The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life—giving you extra strength to defend yourself, for example, or spurring you to slam on the brakes to avoid a car accident.
Stress can also help you rise to meet challenges. It’s what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting the game-winning free throw, or drives you to study for an exam when you’d rather be watching TV. But beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, mood, productivity, relationships, and your quality of life.
Fight-or-flight response: what happens in the body
When you feel threatened, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which rouse the body for emergency action. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed up your reaction time, and enhance your focus—preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand.
Signs and symptoms of stress overload
The most dangerous thing about stress is how easily it can creep up on you. You get used to it. It starts to feel familiar, even normal. You don’t notice how much it’s affecting you, even as it takes a heavy toll. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress overload.
Cognitive symptoms: Memory problems, Inability to concentrate, Poor judgement, Seeing only the negative, Anxious or racing thoughts, Constant worrying.
Emotional symptoms: Depression or general unhappiness, Anxiety and agitation, Moodiness, irritability, or anger, Feeling overwhelmed, Loneliness and isolation,Other mental or emotional health problems
Physical symptoms: Aches and pains, Diarrhoea or constipation, Nausea, dizziness, Chest pain, rapid heart rate, Loss of sex drive, Frequent colds or flu
Behavioural symptoms: Eating more or less, Sleeping too much or too little, Withdrawing from others, Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities, Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax,Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing).
Causes of stress
The situations and pressures that cause stress are known as stressors. We usually think of stressors as being negative, such as an exhausting work schedule or a rocky relationship. However, anything that puts high demands on you can be stressful. This includes positive events such as getting married, buying a house, going to college, or receiving a promotion.
Of course, not all stress is caused by external factors. Stress can also be internal or self-generated, when you worry excessively about something that may or may not happen, or have irrational, pessimistic thoughts about life.
Finally, what causes stress depends, at least in part, on your perception of it. Something that’s stressful to you may not faze someone else; they may even enjoy it. While some of us are terrified of getting up in front of people to perform or speak, for example, others live for the spotlight. Where one person thrives under pressure and performs best in the face of a tight deadline, another will shut down when work demands escalate. And while you may enjoy helping to care for your elderly parents, your siblings may find the demands of care giving overwhelming and stressful.
How much stress is too much?
Stress can have widespread damage it can cause, it’s important to know your own limits. So, just how much stress is “too much” differs from person to person. Some people seem to be able to roll with life’s punches, while other struggle with small obstacles or frustrations. Some people even thrive on the excitement of a high-stress lifestyle.
Factors that can influence your stress tolerance level include:
Your support network. A strong network of supportive friends and family members is an enormous buffer against stress. When you have people you can count on, life’s pressures don’t seem as overwhelming. On the flip side, the lonelier and more isolated you are, the greater your risk of succumbing to stress.
Your sense of control. If you have confidence in yourself and your ability to influence events and persevere through challenges, it’s easier to take stress in stride. On the other hand, if you believe that you have little control over your life—that you’re at the mercy of your environment and circumstances—stress is more likely to knock you off course.
Your attitude and outlook. The way you look at life and its inevitable challenges makes a huge difference in your ability to handle stress. If you’re generally hopeful and optimistic, you’ll be less vulnerable. Stress-hardy people tend to embrace challenges, have a stronger sense of humour, believe in a higher purpose, and accept change as an inevitable part of life.
Your ability to deal with your emotions. If you don’t know how to calm and soothe yourself when you’re feeling sad, angry, or troubled, you’re more likely to become stressed and agitated. Having the ability to identify and deal appropriately with your emotions can increase your tolerance to stress and help you bounce back from adversity.
Your knowledge and preparation. The more you know about a stressful situation, including how long it will last and what to expect, the easier it is to cope. For example, if you go into surgery with a realistic picture of what to expect post-op, a painful recovery will be less stressful than if you were expecting to bounce back immediately.
Tips to remove stress in your life
1. Be aware of the signs and symptoms of stress and notice your health and review your lifestyle if necessary.
2. Cut down on alcohol and smoking
3. Get a good night’s rest
4. Practice and notice your breath
5. Create a healthy support network of friends/family and work collages around you
6. Identify whats triggers your stress and make changes
7. Stay hydrated
8. Eat a balanced diet
9. Exercise regularly
10. Think positively
11.Get smart with your time management
12. Take breaks from tech
13. Take time out to relax
14. Learn to say no thank you
If you find stress is impacting your lifestyle and not living a rich and meaningful life, let's sit down and have a chat with me at Redlands Counselling Service.