We all suffer from stress. It’s a regular part of our modern lifestyles.
The human race has always had the stress reaction. It’s what saved us from danger back in our cave dwelling days. That rush of adrenaline that is often called the fight or flight effect. It is what kept us on the evolutionary ladder. Fast forward a couple of thousand years and it’s a whole new world. Gone may be the daily threat of a wolf attack, yet the reaction is still there. In the wild animal’s stead, we have modernity, technology and high-intensity living.
Adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine are normal hormones found in the human body. During times of stress, however, they can fluctuate.
In excess, these stress hormones may feel like they're out to get you.
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.
So what happens when your body interprets your daily stresses as one constant battle? This is when the real problems may kick in, as this can turn into chronic stress. Your brain registers this as an ongoing attack. It begins to constantly pump these hormones through your system. That feeling of edginess you get when you read your mounting to do list? Stress. Impossible deadlines have you hunched over the computer, furiously typing and clock watching? Stress. Your child, parents or partner going through a rough patch? Stress. Clicking through social media and feeling like everyone is living a better life than you? That creeping feeling of loneliness or isolation that accompanies this? Stress. Money worries or mounting debts keeping you tossing and turning at night? Stress.
We tend to explain these away as normal facts or emotions of modern life. There is an attitude of ‘she’ll be right mate, crack on with it’. Combined with our colonial hangover of a British ‘stiff-upper lip’.
So instead of ignoring the signs of chronic stress, learn to recognise them. Below are four common signs of stress and anxiety, as well as tips to help you overcome them.
1) Sore, tight muscles and a persistent stiff jaw?
If you have been suffering from a tight neck, rigid shoulders or even jaw aches you may need to consider this as a sign of stress. Often, our body flexes and tightens up in response to stress. Body language and posture tends to reflect our emotions, even when we are not aware of it. Grinding teeth and adopting a hunched position also comes into play. Do you find yourself repeatedly cracking knuckles or rubbing your temples or forehead? It’s a subconscious way to try and relieve the tension or stress.
Why does it happen?
Your muscles get the message that they need to be prepared to fight or run. They tense up in preparation. Yet constant 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 aches, cramps and spasms and tender, tight muscles occur.
How can I help it?
Get a massage, preferably aromatherapy based. Exercise is also a great stress and tension reliever. The mental clarity or ‘runner's high’ that comes after an intense session is brilliant for body and mind. This is due to the release of endorphins, the feel good hormone.
It doesn’t even have to be high intensity. It could be a gentle methodical swimming pace. Immersing yourself in water can be like a form of meditation anyway. A long walk on the beach, a horse ride, a hike, a climb. Anything that combines exercise with something mindful. It helps you to get out of your everyday sphere of experience.
2) Lying awake and staring at the ceiling?
Do you lie awake at night, your mind buzzing over work or personal issues?
You are physically exhausted.
Desperately needing to sleep, yet your overactive and stressed out mind won’t play ball. If this re-occurs over a period of nights sleep deprivation may build up.
The badlands of sleeplessness. The barriers are down at the Dream Hotel.
You get the picture.
Why does it happen?
Stress wreaks havoc with our minds. When you are working or out and about during the day, you may be just as crazily mentally juggling plates. Yet you have to pay a modicum of attention to what is happening in your physical environment. So when you get home, tired and ready for bed after your stressful day, all you want to do is sleep. Your weary body lies down and relaxes. Closing your eyes, waiting and hoping for that moment of oblivion. The darkness takes away all other visual distractions.
Then, boy how your mind starts whirling.
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. All while being desperately tired.
How can I help it?
Start by analysing your diet. Reduce caffeine and cut back on unhealthy, sugary foods. Stop drinking alcohol in the evenings as it is both a stimulant and a depressant.
Exercise, either in the morning or before bed. Take a hot bath before bed. Relax. Practice unwinding the complicated skein of your thoughts and stresses in the tub. Add some aromatherapy oils like lavender and rose, known for their relaxation properties. Make yourself a bedroom cocoon free of technology. Drink a cup of warm milk before bed.
3) Did you just re-read this 3 times?
It’s not your eyes, it’s your concentration level. Poor focus and short attention span are a very common indicator of chronic stress.
For work, you need the ability to reason, write, read and retain information. It doesn't matter what kind of job you do. If it appears you are not listening in a meeting and you get called out on it by your boss, how are you supposed to respond? You can’t claim that it went in one ear and out the other.
Why does it happen?
Cortisol, like that annoying friend that just won’t take the hint, has come knocking again. It acts as an inhibitor on the hippocampus, sometimes even shrinking it. The hippocampus is like the control centre of our brains. It 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 can I help it?
Just. Take. A. Break. Get up, out of your chair and go for a walk. Get outside, even if it’s in the rain. You need to take a moment to regain your calm. Deep breathing helps, as it pulls more oxygen into your lungs. This, in turn, oxygenates your blood. Walking away from the situation, allows your eyes, brain and body to re-adjust. A change of scenery is just as good as a holiday in this instance.
4) Sex low on the agenda?
This is the most disheartening sign. For both men and women, our libidos can be highly affected by stress. For men, it can result in erectile dysfunction(2). The stress that caused the dysfunction in the first place may then be exacerbated. By the stress of the dysfunction and the attendant pressure. It seems farcical. It’s a vicious cycle.
Women, usually have a more complex and emotional arousal process. It can feel like a switch has been turned off. Chronic stress can even result in your menstrual cycle problems. It can become irregular or stop altogether (3).
Why does it happen?
An imbalance of sex and stress hormones is responsible(4). This unbalance makes it harder for both men and women to get aroused. Which is a tricky dilemma, because sex is actually a wonderful stress reliever. But if you can’t have sex or don’t want to- how do you go about this?
How can I treat it?
Diet, exercise and nutrition all help. Cutting back on smoking (which goes for everything in life) and alcohol. Both are major contributing factors to libido loss.
These are generalised stress management techniques but it's always best to have a discussion with your doctor about your symptoms.
Alternative therapies like massage and acupuncture may achieve wonderful results. The physical act of another human calming and soothing your aches and worries away cannot be underestimated. Think about it as a whole body, holistic approach to health and well-being.
Also, talk to someone.
Whether it’s a close friend, a family member, your GP or a qualified therapist. Talking through your stresses is already an act of mitigation.
We tend to bottle things inside and soldier on.
Do yourself and those around you a favour. Start addressing the underlying issues. Come up with ways to make it more manageable. You owe it to your quality of life.
Get outside, have a laugh, meet up with friends, have more sex. Do something meaningful. Challenge yourself to stop accepting the status quo. Be brave. Be powerful. Be the best you.
Check out our Calm Range to help you find the Focus you need to combat everyday stress.
- Encyclopedia Britannica. (n.d.). Hippocampus. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/science/hippocampus [Accessed 24 Feb. 2020].
- BetterHealth. (n.d.). Erectile dysfunction. [online] Available at: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/erectile-dysfunction [Accessed 24 Feb. 2020].
- Healthdirect. (n.d.). Irregular periods. [online] Available at: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/irregular-periods [Accessed 24 Feb. 2020].
- Psychology Today. (2014). The Stress-Sex Connection. [online] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/how-the-mind-heals-the-body/201412/the-stress-sex-connection [Accessed 24 Feb. 2020].