Negative Effects of Stress and How to Manage It
Heart pounding? Sweating? Can’t concentrate? You may be suffering from excess stress levels. Stress is your body’s reaction to a situation or event, often known as the ‘fight or flight’ response, or to the feeling of being unable to cope with pressure.
In small amounts, stress can be helpful as it enhances our performance and can make us more alert, but excessive or prolonged amounts can lead to illness, physical and emotional exhaustion.
Causes and Symptoms
Many different situations can cause stress, including; work, moving house, starting a new job, money issues, relationships, bereavement or unemployment. Sometimes it can be a lot of smaller events that accumulate to an overwhelming feeling of stress, or there may be no obvious cause.
Everyone reacts to stress differently, and a situation that may be stressful to one person may be exhilarating to another. Common stress symptoms often fall into three separate categories: physical, emotional and behavioural.
These usually include raised blood pressure, increased heart rate, increased perspiration and palpitations from the excess hormones released into your body from the fight or flight response. These can lead to further symptoms such as headaches, nausea, dizziness and indigestion. Some people struggle to sleep, while others lose their appetite and weight.
You may feel like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster, going through anxiety, fear, anger, frustration, depression, low self-esteem and constant worrying.
The combination of physical and emotional symptoms can then affect your behaviour. You may become withdrawn, indecisive, irritable, inflexible, constantly tearful, aggressive or even violent. Judging correct decisions is harder and can be made based solely on the effect to yourself, as opposed to the group. Some people turn to drink, drugs or smoking to try and cope, which can affect their judgement even more.
Prolonged periods of stress can have a negative impact on your overall health, with the Stress Management Society citing the following illnesses as being related to stress levels:
- Diabetes mellitus
- Hay fever
- Heart attack
- High blood pressure
- Menstrual difficulties
- Overactive thyroid gland
- Peptic ulcers
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Skin Disorders
How To Deal with Stress
Stress itself isn’t an illness and can’t always be avoided, but there are a number of ways you can learn to manage it more successfully.
Keep a diary – Once you learn to recognise the symptoms of stress, start making a diary of how you felt, when and where it was, and what you were doing. If a pattern starts to emerge, you can take steps to either avoid the situation, alter it or improve it, and plan coping mechanisms.
Relax – It’s important to take time out from often busy lives to relax and calm your mind. This could be anything from doing yoga, trying some breathing exercises, having a bath, going for a walk, reading a book or having a massage.
Make lifestyle changes – Once you’ve established what situations cause you particular stress, make positive steps to improve them. If it’s work related, speak to your boss about your workload and what they can do to help. Try cutting down on alcohol, caffeine and smoking, all of which can actually increase your stress levels. Exercise is a great way to reduce stress and improve your overall health, so try joining a club, running or even take the dog out for more walks. Activities such as squash or boxing can be a particularly good release for tension and anger, plus you may end up meeting new people.
Seek professional help – If you still can’t manage your stress levels or think you’re depressed, always seek professional help such as your GP or a charity hotline. Some people are embarrassed or feel it means they’ve failed in some way, but the sooner you speak to someone the sooner you can begin to get better.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet – Some foods that are high in salt, sugar and unsaturated fats are known to aggravate stress. Take-aways, processed fast food, sugary desserts, alcohol, sugary breakfast cereals and fizzy drinks are all nutritionally very poor for your body. Try swapping them for a selection of fresh fruit and vegetables, oily fish, plain yoghurt, oats, nuts and seeds, and plenty of water, to give your body a variety of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and fibre.
The information in our blog articles is for personal use only and not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment plans. We are not medical health practitioners or mental health providers. If you’re worried about a potential medical condition, contact your GP or call an ambulance in an emergency situation.