The Secret Life of Stress
Do you struggle to fall asleep? Do you find yourself having indigestion? Is your menstrual cycle going all over the place? Do you have lots of neck or back pain? Is your blood pressure high? – All these can be markers of stress, because stress manifests itself in all shapes and forms. And everybody has a different experience of stress.
However, there are a few signs and stress symptoms that are common in many people. In this blog we are talking about a few of those and what you can do for stress management.
This is one of the most common signs of stress. Our mind is racing, we are feeling exhausted but either sleep doesn’t want to come or we wake in the middle of the night unable to go back to a restful slumber. The reason for this is that we have elevated levels of adrenaline or that our adrenaline is high when it actually should be low.
This can range from having no appetite and having indigestion and a feeling that food doesn’t want to move through our gut through to symptoms of irritable bowel with diarrhoea or constipation. This happens because when we are stressed, our nervous system is in fight or flight mode (think about running away from a threat or fighting it), so our body directs all our resource to those parts of the body that it perceives need it most – the muscles in our extremities. Digestion becomes unimportant and is neglected.
Irregular Menstrual Cycle
This can range from shorter or longer than usual cycles, skipped menstrual periods or heavier than usual periods. There is a delicate balance of hormones in our body that is governed by the hypothalamus in our brain. When the body is in a stress response and mainly pre-occupied with the fight and flight response, the hormonal balance gets disrupted.
Tense Muscles And/Or Pain In Back And Neck
Considering that the body is preparing to fight or to flight it makes sense that the muscles are in a state of high alert and tense, making it easier to jump into action when necessary. So next time when you feel pain in your back or neck, check in if you’re stressed.
This is more of a psychological symptom and quite common when you’re stressed. Unfortunately quite often the person affected is the last to notice, but the people around that person notice it more quickly. It’s due to the interplay of hormones and neurotransmitters and on an evolutionary levels it makes sense. If we are in a life threatening situation, we don’t waste resources on feel good hormones, all we need to do is either run or fight. Fortunately today our life is not in regular danger, unfortunately for us, our instincts and subconscious mind have not woken up to that fact yet. So, if you are under stress in your job, or because of time constraints, your body thinks it’s in mortal danger.
Lack of Energy And Motivation
If stress has been going on for a long time, we exhaust ourselves and whilst we are still functioning, we are running on empty batteries. The result is that we feel tired or feel like not doing anything at all.
Elevated Blood Pressure
Generally it’s a healthy response of our body to increase the blood pressure when we get excited, think about an Olympic runner who needs more oxygen flow to the muscles of the legs. But as with all stress symptoms, if we are in this state for a prolonged time, it is harmful for our overall health and reduces our quality of life.
So What Can You Do About It?
Acknowledge the stress. Acknowledge to yourself that you’re stressed and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Exercise regularly: Moving the body helps to process excess stress hormones.
Go for a short 10min walk: This can literally act as a circuit breaker, getting you out of the immediate stress response.
Spend time in nature: More and more research shows that nature has a healing and soothing effect on our bodies and minds. So by going out into nature we can make a world of a difference, especially if we normally live in the city. Why not make a whole day of it and drive somewhere beautiful and spend time there either walking, cycling or relaxing?
Practice Mindfulness or Meditation. This allows our mind to find some quiet space and the body to relax and calm down a bit. Whenever you spend time in Meditation you gently shift your body into a rest and digest mode. We offer regular online 4-week Meditation Courses at the beginning of each term.
Avoid caffeine as much as possible. This is not generally a popular suggestion, but when your adrenaline is already high, coffee exacerbates the symptoms and makes it worse
Have proper mealtimes. Too often, when we are stressed and in a rush we tend to just scoff down our meals. This doesn’t allow our digestive system any time to even recognise that we are ingesting food, let alone the need to digest it. However, if you take your time to sit down and eat consciously, your digestive system starts to get activated.
Eat a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables with adequate sources of protein. When the body is in the stress response, it needs more of all micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Fresh food is the best source. However, if short of time, consider using something like Hello Fresh or find a good provider of pre-cooked meals.
Taking herbs to support your stress response. There are quite a few great herbs that can help when the body is caught in the stress response. Some are more calming such as Passion Flower, Motherwort, Lime flower. Others are helping with energy levels such as Withania, Rhemannia or Codonopsis. If you’d like to know more, please feel free to reach out.
You can take a nutritional supplement. Ideally a supplement that is high in B vitamins to support the stress response or even better eat a diet rich in B vitamins.
Seek the help of a health professional. There are a range of health practitioners who are able to help you. A naturopath or acupuncturist can advise you on the best combination of lifestyle changes, diet, nutrients and herbs. Or find a reflexologist who can work on your reflex points to alleviate stress symptoms. A massage therapist can help your muscles to let go of some of the tension. A hypnotherapist can help with underlying issues of the subconscious mind. They can also give you tools to get on top of the stress.
Go to our “Relaxation Toolbox”. There you find recorded relaxation (best enjoyed lying down) and a video with a great breathing technique that helps you to move from stressed to relaxed.
Would like to find out more about how to improve your sleep? Read our blog “Simple Hacks For A Restful Night”