Stress No More

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Many factors of our day to day lives can contribute to stress. Work, finances, family, relationships and other aspects of our lives can bring us stress. It’s not uncommon to suffer from it, some research estimates that up to a third of adults report high levels of stress, and more people report their levels of stress increasing year-on-year rather than reducing. We hear people talking about it daily, and we’re told it’s important to reduce our levels of stress for the good of our wellbeing. But what is stress and how do we recognise it? How is it harmful to us and how can we effectively reduce stress levels in our lives?
Stress can be thought of as an overload mentally, emotionally or both. It can have multiple causes and a variety of manifestations. Stress is a mental state and affects how we think, it can impair mental cognitions, slowing down our problem solving skills, and it’s related to anxiety and depression. It also has physical expressions such as headaches, dizziness, dry mouth, increased heart rate and blood pressure, reduction in blood flow to skin and reduction in stomach activity, and many more symptoms. It can cause sleep disturbances, which in turn can increase stress levels. People suffering from stress may feel indecisive and seem to others as withdrawn. They may feel frustrated and confused and can sometimes become uncharacteristically argumentative or aggressive.
You might have heard of the body’s ‘fight or flight’ system. In order to survive our bodies have evolved to respond efficiently to perception of a threat or danger. Parts of the sympathetic nervous system secrete chemicals to prepare our bodies to fight a danger, or run away from it. In stressful situations our body perceives the cause of stress as a potential threat, triggering this ‘fight or flight’ response. However this system didn’t evolve to cope with long term threats, and long term activation of this system can be damaging to the body.
The ‘fight or flight’ system releases a hormone called cortisol. Stress therefore raises levels of cortisol in the body. This can be damaging to our health. It affects all areas of the body, and can be thought of as aging us before our time. Most worryingly research has shown that it can reduce the body’s ability to fight off disease and heal itself. It’s not surprising that many studies have suggested links between various illnesses and elevated levels of stress. Stress has been linked with illnesses such as heart disease, asthma, diabetes and stomach problems. Although it cannot be said that stress is a direct cause of these, stress has been shown to supress the immune system and could therefore make the body more vulnerable to disease in this way.
Luckily there are many things we can do to help to reduce and prevent our levels of stress. While sometimes we can’t eradicate the sources of our stress, we can learn to deal with stress, or how identify unnecessary additional factors that enhance stress or prevent us from coping with it.
You can read more of this article in our Jan/Feb 2016 issue of ModelsMania
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