What is stress? Is stress always bad? How did I become stressed? How do I know if I am too stressed? What can I do if I am too stressed?
To begin, it is essential to state that there are an uncountable amount of things (stresses) in our daily lives that will cause us stress. The vast majority of these things are uncontrollable, that is to say that there is nothing you can do about them occurring. However, being aware of how the stress cycle works will allow you to manage or mitigate the stresses in your life.
The Biological, Psychological, Social model of health is a good reference point to see what is causing you stress and what can be done about the stress in you life. Stress is caused by both internal and external environmental factors and these factors are almost always a derivative of Bio-Psycho-Social factors.
Biological stresses are for the most part of an internal environmental cause. That means that the stress load occurred due to some factors in your body. For example; when ever you feel thirsty your body is under stress. The stress occurs due to the kidneys holding water and salts to maintain your blood plasma levels. If blood plasma levels drop too low you are said to be dehydrated. As the kidneys hold the water and salt the heart rate will increase, as the heart rate increases the blood pressure will increase too. If you don't address your need for water you body will become very stressed very quickly. Alternatively if you take some water fluids in the body will return to normal state in a matter of minuets.
Psychological stresses can be of either internal or external environmental cause. These stresses are not as easy to resolve as the example of thirst and drinking water. A common psychological stress I come across in clinic on a daily basis in the phenomenon of pain. Although, it could be argued, that pain is a biological stress its outcome or effect will always have a psychological effect on a patient. This may present by a patient worrying about the cause of the pain, worrying about the loss of function as a result of the pain or catastrophising the the cause is more serious or sinister that perhaps it might be.
One of the greatest barriers to resolving muscular or joint pain is fear avoidance. If a patient fears using the injured limb or fears returning to the activity the previous caused pain the pain process will be prolonged and in some cases worsened. Patient understanding the injury and cause of the pain is vital for recovery and mitigation of the psychological stress being caused by the pain.
There are many common symptoms associated with psychological stress and the usual symptoms i hear reported clinically are; poor digestion, poor sleep and anxiety. Pain is a great suppressor of appetite. Poor sleep is a facilitator of pain. Pain and poor sleep is a driver of anxiety. This is a viscous cycle of stress and ultimately ill health if not addressed correctly.
Social stress is usually an external environmental cause. Clinically this most often presents as work or family related stress. Trying to meet deadlines in work, being expected to work longer hours or having to attend work engagements at short notice. All of these examples will cause physiological change in the body that will drive the body into a stressed state.
The stress of having to meet a deadline in work will elevate cortisol levels in the blood and put the body into a state of unease. Breathing will become shallower, heart rate will increase, sleep will be poor and like above, digestion will suffer too. This will have the knock on effect of causing psychological stress too.
So far I have discussed the negative impacts and outcomes of stress. However, there are many positive impacts too.
Biological stress from exercise and exertion has a long term positive effect on the body and all of its organs. During exercise the stress of exertion will cause the heart rate to increase and be held at a higher rate than at rest. Long term this will make the heart more efficient and therefore a lower heart rate is achieved after a couple of weeks regular exercise. The breathing rate and rhythm will increase too. Like the heart, the respiratory organ will function much more efficiently after just a couple of weeks exercise. Physical exertion will make you more tired and sleep usually improves as a result, as sleep improves the digestion will improve too. Both of those factors will reduce anxiety or mitigate some other stress.
Psychological stress of task completion at work, doing a crossword puzzle or playing a musical instrument have widely know positive outcomes in patients.This type of stress has been shown to reduce the risk of memory loss, maintain cognitive function and mitigate risks of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Our bodies thrive on stress and when it comes to psychological stress the old adage of "Use it or lose it" proves true.
Social stress of organising to meet friends and family for social outings in a positive environment are widely shown to reduce the symptoms of negative stress and anxiety. Allowing yourself time to break away from the monotony and worry of day to day chores, work life and limitations of pain and illness is a positive way to help you gain perspective of what is important. It can help you identify the stress in your life and time away might be all you need to find a way to deal with these stresses.
What is stress?
Stress is the grind of day to day life. Stress is hunger, tiredness, pain and worry. Stress is walking, swimming and meeting a friend for coffee. Stress is everything you encounter daily and stress is something you conjure up in your head. Stress is inevitable, it should be met and greeted. Sometimes it can blind side you and when it does you need to identify it, address it and deal with it to ensure your health.
How do I become stressed?
The Tea Cup on the Saucer might be the best analogy here. The Tea cup is holding the stress. I am the type of person who likes there Tea Cup fairly full most of the time. Sometimes the Tea will spill over onto the Saucer. That's OK. So long as you recognise this, stop the spillage and clean up the Saucer. Illness thrives on a messy Saucer.
How do I know if I am too stressed?
There are many signs of being too stressed but perhaps the most obvious and possibly the most common sign is when you find yourself unable to cope with small and minor problems that previously wouldn't have bothered you that much.
What can I do if I am too stressed?
Identify the primary and secondary stresses in your life. You might not be able to resolve all your problems or stresses short term but pick the problems you can address and resolve them. That should help you cope with the remaining issues.