31st Jul 2020

As humans, we’ve long been familiar with the stress response. After all, it’s what kept us out of harm’s way back in our cave-dwelling days.

Commonly referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response, stress remains a common occurrence in our modern lifestyles despite the apparent lack of predators.

Our stress hormones (adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine) are normal hormones found in the human body that may fluctuate during times of stress.

In an acute or short-lived stressful event, like being frightened after a jump scare in a horror film, these stress hormones dissipate after the perceived threat has passed. But what about when your body interprets the hustle and bustle of daily life as one continuous stressor?

So instead of ignoring the common stress signs, learn to recognise them.

Tight Muscles

Have you noticed your neck has been feeling a bit tight? Perhaps your shoulders have been rigid or your jaw has been feeling sore? Each of these feelings may be a sign that you’re experiencing ongoing stress.

Often, your body may flex or tighten in response to a stressor without you even noticing. Think gritted teeth and hunched shoulders.

If you find yourself cracking your knuckles or rubbing your temples subconsciously, it may be your body trying to relieve some of this stress-induced tension.

Why Does It Happen?

When you encounter stress, your muscles get the message that they need to be prepared to fight or run. They tense up in preparation. The problem arises when ongoing stress never allows for the normal relaxing of these muscles. Instead, they remain on guard.

When a muscle fails to enter into the relax phase it sustains the tension.

This is when mild aches, cramps and spasms and tender, tight muscles may occur.

How May I Relieve It?

A massage may help to relieve tense muscles at the end of a, particularly stressful period. Exercise may also be a great stress and tension reliever, but be careful not to overdo it.

This doesn’t need to be high intensity. It could be a slow, methodical swimming pace, a long walk on the beach, a horse ride, a hike, or a climb.

Anything that combines exercise with something mindful may help you to escape the things that are causing you stress.

Temporary Sleeplessness

After a particularly busy day, do you sometimes have trouble drifting off to sleep even when your body is definitely tired?

If it feels like your brain won’t shut off, you may be experiencing ongoing stress.

Why Does It Happen?

While you’re busy at work throughout the day, you’re likely focussed on the tasks at hand and everything that’s going on around you. Between a stream of back-to-back meetings, phone calls and other disturbances, it may even feel like you’ve got time to stop and think.

So it may be unsurprising that when your head finally hits the pillow and you’re free from the day’s distractions that your mind begins to whir.

Addressing all the many and varied niggles and concerns of the day or the week ahead, you stare, wide-eyed and alert at the ceiling.

How May I Help It?

Exercises during the day may help you to process the day’s stresses, while also tiring out your body and encouraging a good night’s rest.

Establishing a relaxing bedtime routine may also help to signal to your brain that it’s time to unwind. Why not try incorporating a warm bath, a cup of herbal tea and light read into your evening schedule?

Trouble Concentrating

Poor focus and a short attention span are two tell-tale indicators of persistent stress. So, if you’re having trouble paying attention to the task at hand, find yourself zoning out of conversations, or feel the need to re-read things a few times before they really sink in, you may be experiencing ongoing stress.

Why Does it Happen?

Poor concentration associated with the onset of stress is largely attributed to cortisol. The stress hormone may act as an inhibitor on the hippocampus, the control centre of our brains.

The hippocampus controls the limbic system which is responsible for both short and long-term memory and spatial navigation. It is also linked with our emotional behaviour (1).

How May I Help It?

Take a break to get up out of your chair and go for a walk. Get outside and get some fresh air. You need to take a moment to regain your calm.

Walking away from the situation, allows your eyes, brain and body to re-adjust, so if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, it’s important to give yourself a break.

Whether it’s a close friend, a family member, your GP or a qualified therapist. Talking it out is also an important stress-relieving tool.

We tend to bottle things inside and soldier on.

If you are concerned about your stress levels or mental health, make an appointment with a professional to discuss ways forward and coping mechanisms. Lifeline is also an excellent immediate resource if you are ever feeling overwhelmed and need to talk to someone – visit their website to chat online or call them on 13 11 14.

What's Next?