Stress affects everybody every day, and for the most part stress offers the push we need to respond to a pressing situation. From trying to get out of the house on time to giving a presentation, stress is your response to physical, chemical, emotional or environmental factors. Whenever there's a sudden need for quick response, our bodies initiate a cascade of chemical reactions that sends our hearts racing and heightens all our senses. In a positive context, stresses can help keep our bodies strong and minds alert, but chronic stress can have devastating effects.
When you have chronic stress, your body produces too much cortisol and adrenalin—two major stress hormones. Cortisol is the worry hormone produced by fear and vigilance, and produces anxiety. Adrenalin is the fight-or-flight hormone which prepares the body to react physically to a threat.
If you fail to adapt to our stresses, your body can produce too much of these hormones for too long. This results in distress, which is literally an overdose of cortisol and adrenalin. The effects can result in physical symptoms and even changes that lead to stress-related illnesses.
Chronic stress has been linked, for example, to high blood pressure and heart disease. New research suggests that people whose blood pressure spikes in reaction to life's daily annoyances develop blockages in their arteries faster than those who can relax.
High stress levels also have been found to trigger asthma attacks and can precede a heart attack. Long episodes of stress can also have a negative impact on your immune system, weakening your resistance to infection as well as your ability to recover. Other physical manifestations of stress include headaches, insomnia, digestive trouble and acne. In fact, stress can worsen just about any symptom, whatever the original cause.
Stress can manifest itself in a range of symptoms. You may become more forgetful or find it harder to concentrate. Losing your sense of humor is another sign of an unhealthy amount of stress in your life, as are irritable moods and increased angry outbursts.
Stress can lead to an entirely different set of health problems if you seek relief from it by smoking, drinking alcohol, taking other drugs, or by eating more or less than usual. Fortunately there are a variety of natural, drug-free approaches to provide stress relief. What can you do to handle stress? The most important question to ask yourself when you feel trapped by intense stress is whether this is really worth dying for. Then, remind yourself that there is no one solution to handling stress. Everyone is different and you need to choose the stress relievers that work best for you. Here are some suggestions:
- Identify your triggers: Begin by first identifying all the sources of stress in your daily life. Keep a diary or make simple notes every time an event triggers your stress response. This will help you identify patterns in your perception of stressful events and circumstances that precede them. When you've gone through this exercise, make the effort, either with your employer, your partner or with yourself to change these patterns and reduce the amount of stress you currently face.