What is stress?
Stress is a normal human reaction, and it is safe to say that everyone will experience stress in all likelihood at least once – most likely multiple times. It is undeniable, life is full of stress. The human body is actually designed to encounter stress, react and cope with it. Stress can come in numerous forms, degrees and has multiple factors, as it can be long term or short term, internal and external. Everything varies from person to person. Stressors, or triggers, could be events or conditions in your surroundings, and when triggered your body produces physical and mental responses.
Symptoms of stress and what happens to your body during stress.
Everyone experiences different stress symptoms in varying degrees. Some get physical symptoms, whereas others will experience mental symptoms, while others may experience behavioural changes. Stress symptoms can start out small and in a low degree, like a headache or something similar. However, it can develop over time and lead to more severe and long-term symptoms. Meaning that a small physical symptom can develop into behavioural changes and mental symptoms.
Your body is a complex concept with many functions and systems. One being the autonomic system. This system controls matters like your breathing, your heart rate and vision changes to name but a few. You are probably familiar with the term “fight-or-flight response”. It is a built-in physical stress response, and it assists your body in stressful situations.
As mentioned above, stress can both be long- and short termed. Long-term stress, also known as chronic stress, is a continued activation of your body’s stress response. This will undeniably wear and tear on your body both mentally, physically, and behaviourally. Meaning these symptoms will emerge and develop.
Physical symptoms of stress includes:
- Aches and pains
- Chest pain or heart racing
- Exhaustion or trouble sleeping
- Headaches, shaking or dizziness
- Muscle tension or jaw clenching
- Stomach or digestive problems
- Trouble having sex
- Weak immune system
Stress can lead to emotional and mental symptoms like:
- Anxiety or irritability
- Panic attacks
- Loss of memory
- Inability to concentrate
People with chronic stress often develop unhealthy coping mechanism, such as:
- Drinking too much or too often
- Developing eating disorders (over – or undereating)
- Participating compulsively in shopping, sex, or internet browsing
- Drug use
How is stress diagnosed?
Stress is not measurable with tests. It is subjective and only the person experiencing it can determine if stress is present and its severity. Stress is, as previously stated, a normal human reaction. Meaning that stress is a natural part of life, only when it starts to affect your daily life and has a negative effect on you should you seek medical help. A doctor, a psychologist, or other healthcare professionals may use questionnaires to try and understand your stress and its impact, but there isn’t one specific test that can diagnose stress.
What treatments are there?
There isn’t a finite treatment for stress. However, there are various methods which can be helpful, but what helps is very individual. The most well-known ‘treatments’:
Talking with a licensed professional can help you learn and cope with stress in a healthy way. You can become more aware of your own thoughts, feelings, and stressors. Forms of talking treatments:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – Helps you understand your thought patterns, recognise your stressors and identity actions you can take.
- Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) – It combines mindfulness, meditation, and yoga (focused on stress reducing)
There isn’t any medication developed specially for stress, but there are medications available which may help reduce, or manage, your symptoms. For example:
- Sleeping pills or minor tranquillisers if you are having trouble sleeping
- Antidepressant if you are experiencing anxiety or depression
If you feel overwhelmed, have unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as them mentioned above, have thoughts about hurting yourself, or have been experience one or more symptoms and it is having a negative effect on your quality of life please do not hesitate to reach out, contact your doctor or other medical professionals.
You are not alone.
National Suicide Helpline UK – 0800 689 5652
Samaritans – 116 123
Police & medical help if you are seriously hurt – 999