What is stress and how it affects our health?

Stress is our body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event. A build up of stress could be caused by over working, a busy home life or just trying to keep on top of everything. Some other factors causing stress include something new or unexpected happening, something that threatens your feeling of self, or feeling you have little control over a situation. Stress can vary hugely from person to person but what typically results is that we stop taking care of ourselves and may eventually end up in “burn out”.

When stressed, our body releases hormones that trigger “flight or fight’ which activates our immune system. Sometimes stress is beneficial, helping us to push through situations that can be nerve-wracking or intense, like giving a speech to a large crowd. We can quickly return to a resting state without any negative effects on our health if what is stressing us is short-lived. Many people are able to deal with a certain level of stress without any lasting effects.

However, there can be times when stress becomes excessive and too much to deal with. If our stress response is activated repeatedly, or it persists over time, our health can be affected. Permanently in a state of ‘fight or flight’ can cause wear and tear on the body and prevent key systems in our body from functioning properly. This pressure can make us feel overwhelmed or unable to cope. Feeling this overwhelming stress for a long period of time is often called chronic, or long-term stress, and it can impact on both physical and mental health. Mental Health Foundation.

What is stress and how it affects our health?

Some physical signs of stress can include an increased heart beat, even palpitations, butterflies in tummy, diarrhoea, constipation, indigestion, muscle tension, e.g. the jaw, clenched fists, hunched shoulders. General aches and pains, restless, nail biting, finger drumming, foot tapping, frequent need to visit the loo, immediate need to “empty”, lump in throat, rapid shallow breathing, exhausted, sleep difficulties, headaches, frequent illnesses, e.g. cold and flu, over eating and loss of appetite.

Mental, emotional symptoms, feeling worried, tearful, deflated, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, impatient, easily irritated, angry, frustrated, bored, inadequate, guilty, vulnerable, rushed, hypercritical, over reactive, lack of creativity, irrational, difficulty thinking clearly, feeling overloaded, withdrawn, feeling unable to cope, anxious and depressed.

Note: these are also symptoms of other illnesses too, always check with GP if worried.

What can we do to reduce our stress?

Prioritise some time for self care. Be kind to yourself and consider any rest time a gift to yourself. There are some helpful tools that Yoga can offer when feeling fearful, unstable, disoriented and unable to cope. Asana, pranayama, relaxation, visualisation, mindfulness, and meditation are just some of the wonderful practices available that can calm the nervous system and activate the relaxed response. To bring back a sense of balance and peace. To feel safe, stable and grounded once more, with the faith that things are going to work out in the end.

Simply STOP for just 20 minutes, lie on the floor with a small cushion under your head. Also a couple of pillows placed under the knees for support and a blanket for covering. And just be with your breath, watch your breathing without interfering with it. Be the silent observer, fully experiencing with all of your attention how your breath moves your body, really feel it. If your mind wonders just return to just watching your breath. At the end have a stretch and notice how wonderful it feels to be still and silent. Maybe try and develop a regular routine to enjoy some much needed rest.