Stress is prevalent in today’s society and many people are approaching clinicians just like me to help them to alleviate the effects. For Stress Awareness Month this year I’ll be highlighting five key causes of stress and providing suggestions that over time have helped me and therefore might help you.
What is stress & what are the signs?
The oxford dictionary defines stress as “experiencing mental or emotional strain or tension”.
Stress is often progressive. Emotions not addressed can become pathological and be the root of more serious health conditions, manifesting in the physical aspect of the body. Symptoms are different for everyone, but may include:
Do you have to keep reminding yourself to lower your shoulders whilst bashing on those keyboard keys? Long hours, slumped over a desk or staring at a computer screen can tighten muscles; as this happens shoulders start to rise, blood vessels constrict which can inhibit blood flow to the head, causing headaches/migraines and even impaired vision causing blurriness.
Diarrhoea, bloating, cramping or nausea are all symptoms of your stomach not working as well as it should. Your body finds a way to alarm you, whether it is from eating certain food items, the thought of presenting at work, taking your driving test or sitting an exam causing your stomach to misbehave. Either way a strong stomach is one that eliminates waste daily and consistently. How optimal is yours?
Feeling run down
We’ve all been there, working extra hard to clear the ever growing to do list, looking forward to a well-earned break, and just as you are about to hit the sand, boom! Sniffles, sore throat, streaming eyes. In this situation the central nervous system has been in a continual state of excitement and adrenalin is ramped up. It becomes stuck in a constant state of fight putting the immune system in constant overdrive. When it is time to relax, the immune system lowers leaving us vulnerable to invasion of those pesky bugs.
It’s only a matter of time before the body gives into fatigue. It may suddenly dawn on you that you’re not as active as you used to be, that bedtime becomes earlier or the slightest bit of activity can put you back days. This is further exacerbated if sleep is in short supply.
Poor sleep or Insomnia
Events of the day may be affecting your sleep, preventing you from dropping off or ensuring that you toss and turn throughout the night, never quite achieving that deep sleep.
What can you do about it?
1: Work-life balance
Research by the Health and Safety Executive found that in 2016/17, 526,000 UK workers were suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety. The main causes for this were down to workload, lack of managerial support and organisational change.
We spend a lot of time at work, repeatedly staying late to meet deadlines and achieve targets – attempting to get in front of what can seem like an uphill struggle. This can often be for little recognition.
- Don’t be afraid to say no when your workload becomes unmanageable. Often people are fearful of being replaced. What if I said that saying “NO” actually gains you respect in the workplace and contributes to you being a trusted member of the workforce. You will find that less stress improves performance, aiding you to achieve a healthy work-life balance.
- Plan your day effectively and take advantage of tools and training at work that can help you with this. Just because colleagues come in early and leave late, doesn’t mean you have too. Whether you are an employee or self-employed, maintaining good work-life balance will increase productivity. Focus on jobs that are important to you. This means from time to time we need to stop what we’re doing, get off the treadmill, reassess our workload or current situation and re-prioritise. There is no point worrying about jobs that are never ending such as dusting and vacuuming, those who love you will appreciate your time.
- Move on – If you’ve lost passion, it may be time to reflect on your purpose and life plan. Remaining stagnant will do you a great disservice. Find something that makes you want to get up in the morning and unleash the tiger within! Don’t be afraid to say goodbye to those who are holding you back – you know who they are!
2: Financial worries
Financial worries can affect your relationships and social life. Many people find themselves in situations beyond their control and fall into debt. Worrying about where the next meal is coming from or how the next utility bill will be managed is often at the forefront of the mind.
- You may benefit from some professional advice – contact your local Citizens Advice or visit the Which website for access to a pool of services to put you back on top.
Poor food choices can lead to you feeling unwell, putting the body in a state of stress, whether you are yet symptomatic or not.
Today’s fruit and vegetables are manufactured using chemicals to create unity that looks aesthetically pleasing to the eye. The key word is ‘chemicals’. See for yourself the next time you go shopping. Look at the dried apricots; a standard pack will be orange in colour, then look at an organic pack of dried apricots and note the difference in colour. Logic says that any produce left to dry should naturally change colour.
Humdinger! Did you know apples can be stored for months before reaching your fruit bowl! That’s because they go through a freezing process. How else would we get apples all year round?
We are now eating more processed food and whilst on route to your plate additional salt, fat and sugar are added to extend shelf life and are chronically affecting our health. Not only do additional additives and growth hormones change the flavour of food, they put a strain on our gastrointestinal tract meaning it’s a struggle to metabolise food, causing bloating, allergies, hormonal imbalances and more…
Conditions such as IBS, chronic fatigue, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) or Fibromyalgia are all modern-day conditions and an increasing number of couples are struggling to conceive. There are many reasons for this, such as soil depletion, toxin overload but there are things you can do!
So what’s the alternative?
- Consider a paleo diet – an ancestral way of eating that goes back to basics. If you’re a meat eater at the heart of this diet is opting for grass-fed meats and increasing your intake of fruit, veg, nuts and seeds.
- Read labels – take an interest in the ingredients and how they contribute to your daily food intake.
- Eat regularly and avoid skipping meals to help balance your blood sugar levels.
4: Poor sleep
Do you lie in bed with thoughts and worries racing through your mind? We’ve all been there… If this happens on the odd occasion you’re likely to feel tired and irritable but this can affect your health if it happens repeatedly. Good quality sleep at night is key to you functioning well during the day and will help to restore emotional and physical well-being.
- Limit your caffeine intake ideally by drinking your last coffee around lunchtime. Decaf or herbal drinks are a great alternative!
- Create a relaxing environment by having a bath to help you unwind, reading a book or meditating before going to bed.
- Be consistent with your bed time – turn off the TV and leave technology out of the bedroom.
Aloe Vera plants omit oxygen overnight which can help with breathing and promote a harmonious sleep.
Technology is having an impact on everything we do which can be wonderful, but can also contribute to stress. Ofcom research in 2017 found that 94% of UK adults own a mobile phone, 76% of these have a smartphone.
It’s easy to become addicted to mobile phones, TV or computers and tablets so it’s important to:
- Create boundaries by having some down time, maybe not checking your email or social media between certain hours of the day.
- Find alternative hobbies to distract you from technology such as tai chi, qigong or yoga. Try joining a local group to learn a new skill, going for walks or joining your local gym.
- Reduce your blue light & leave technology out of the bedroom.