By Dr Shami
Could you be suffering from Chronic Stress?
Cast your mind back to a moment in which you felt under pressure. Racing against the clock to hand an assignment in on time? An exam you felt underprepared for? Unsure how you were going to pay the next bill? Do you remember how you felt in those moments – the discomfort? Did it feel like stress?
Stress is often described as the feeling of being overwhelmed. Too much to do and too little time to do it in, making you feel lost and out of control. It’s a dreadful feeling, and one which we all feel more often than we’d like, but perhaps one of the few positives about this feeling is that it is an overwhelmingly relatable feeling. So, let’s relate – read on!
The Australian Stress and Wellbeing Survey of 2015 reported the following:
- 35% of Australians report having a significant level of distress in their lives;
- 26% report above normal levels of anxiety symptoms;
- 26% report having moderate to extremely severe levels of depression symptoms; and
- in 2015, anxiety symptoms were the highest they’ve been in the past 5 years.
The top 5 causes of stress in Australia over the 5 years were found to be:
- personal finances – 49%;
- family issues – 45%;
- personal health – 44%;
- trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle – 40%; and
- issues with the health of others close to us – 38%.
The Stress Response. We Need it for our Survival.
The acute stress response was programmed for our survival. You have probably heard the infamous story of the cave man escaping death from the paws of the ferocious tiger by triggering the stress response. The mere smell of fear or any sight of threat to our survival sends messages to our adrenals which in turn release the cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline. All 3 chemicals have specific roles to play in order to save us from imminent danger. The blood flows to the muscles and heart, our heart races, palms become sweaty and we are ready to run for our lives.
But what are we Running Away from in Today’s World?
Today’s “tigers” could be everyday moments which bring about the emotions of fear, anger, embarrassment and even sadness. Am I going to arrive at my appointment on time? Am I going to lose my job if I say something? The boss wants to see me, have I done something wrong?
Do you notice the pattern in our thinking? We tend to jump to the worst-case scenario which gives rise to the fear and anxiety. You could say we are programmed to constantly scan for threats – like animals in a jungle. We know that we wouldn’t survive if not for the stress response, our trained reaction of ‘am I prepared for the worst-case scenario?’ But what about the ‘what’s the probability of this actually happening?’ scenario? Can we perhaps retrain our minds into heading down the most likely case scenario instead? Karen Reivich explains this perfectly in her book “The Resilience Factor”, a book I would highly recommend. So, when does the Stress Response become Harmful to us?
The problem arises when we always live as though we are on the run. Libby Weaver writes about this in her book “Rushing Woman Syndrome” where she talks about the impact that having endless tasks to ‘tick off’ and always being on the go has on our health. It’s a scary read but a necessity for all those on the go and wondering about how it is actually affecting them. Put simply, Weaver confirms that the constant pressure on the adrenals to perform can lead to adrenal exhaustion, poor gut and thyroid health and many other damaging consequences to our wellbeing.
So, here are 10 reasons why we should slow down…
Science has now confirmed that chronic stress can:
- Make you gain weight
- The stress hormone cortisol raises your blood glucose levels which then can be converted to fat if not utilised.
- Stress also tends to make us choose the high sugar food groups and make poorer health choices.
- Affect your gut health giving rise to bloating, wind and cramps
The first organ to be affected by stress is the gut. It can slow down, speed up, affect the amount of acid produced and even alter gut bacteria.
- Make you feel depressed and anxious
This could be for many reasons but one of the most common effects of these feelings is the negative impact they can have on the quality of your relationships with friends, colleagues and family.
- Affect your sleep
- We desperately need those 7-8hrs of uninterrupted sleep to rejuvenate and recharge.
- We now know that poor sleep is linked to reduced immunity and weight gain.
- The sleep hormone, melatonin, is also known to have anti-cancer properties. GreenMedInfo.com lists twenty studies demonstrating exactly how melatonin exerts its protective effects against breast cancer.
- Affects blood sugar control in diabetics
Cortisol, as mentioned previously, increases blood glucose levels. Also, stress tends to affect our decision making when it comes down to food choices.
- Increase your risk of getting infections
Studies have shown stress affects white cells which are cells produced in your body to fight infection.
- Be a cause for unexplained fatigue
- Have you, on more than one occasion, been to see your doctor just feeling a bit rubbish, and been told that all tests are normal? Then walked out relieved but still feeling so exhausted?
- The reason could be hiding in the adrenals; organs that lie above the kidneys and are responsible for secreting a number of hormones including oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone, as well as your stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
- Be the reason for sufferers of female hormonal imbalances such as premenstrual tension
Why? Again, the adrenals play a big part in this.
- Play a part in your thyroid health
- The thyroid glands sit in your neck and is the centre of regulating the production of your thyroid hormones. They have a whole host of responsibilities which again can speed or slow biochemical processes.
- You may be feeling tired, complaining of weight gain and hair loss if you are underactive. Or, you may be suffering from weight loss and palpitations if you are overactive. Cortisol can affect these thyroid hormones giving rise to underactive symptoms.
- And lastly, be contributing to your risk of suffering from heart disease, which means increasing the risk of having a heart attack.
It seems time for us to do something about our stress levels so that we can get the most out of our lives, doesn’t it?! Ironically, the reduction of stress in ourselves and actively trying to becoming more level headed and peaceful beings will help us tackle the 5 things from the beginning of this article which cause us the most stress in life – personal finances, family issues, personal health, trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle and issues with the health of others close to us.
Wouldn’t it just be fantastic if our overthinking and worrying over these parts of our lives was no longer an issue, if we had tools to arm ourselves with that helped us practically reduce these stresses? I know it’s no walk in the park, but I also know that you can do it! So, over the next few weeks, we will go through some effective tips which can have a significant impact on your health, wellbeing and happiness! Also, our wonderful counsellor Sue, has created some incredible Stress-Free Living workshops held at Nicholson Health and Wellness on Wednesday evenings from March 2018. Please enquire at reception for more information.
But for today, I’ll leave you with an easy and effective tip: deep breathing.
This increases oxygen to the brain and triggers the parasympathetic nervous system to slow things down. When you do it, ensure you are breathing into your abdomen and not just using your upper chest wall. I hope this and the article has helped you today – till the next article, be well (and stress-free!)!
Please see your usual health care practitioner if you are worried about your health or feeling overwhelmed.
13 11 14
Lifeline provides all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to online, phone and face-to-face crisis support and suicide prevention services.
13 22 89
Telephone counselling, information and referral service for parents and carers with children
HEADSPACE: NATIONAL YOUTH MENTAL HEALTH FOUNDATION
1800 650 890
Telephone and online chat mental health service for young people 12–25 years
National Debt Helpline
1800 007 007
Talk to a free phone financial counsellor from anywhere in Australia (Monday to Friday 9.30am to 4.30pm)
This article provides general information and discussion about the medicine, health and related subjects. The words and other content provided in this article are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately licensed physician or other health care worker. The views expressed in this article have no relation to those of any academic, hospital, practice or other institution with which the author is affiliated