Feeling stressed out from time to time has become an unnervingly normal part of modern life. In fact, the Mental Health Foundation’s 2018 study found that 74% of people have felt so stressed, they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope, while work-related stress is believed to be the most common form of stress experienced in the UK.
Ubiquitous with our always-on culture though it may be, being able to pinpoint the most common causes and recognise the most prominent signs and symptoms of stress is vital if you’re to cope with any stressful situations that do occur.
Below, we’ve laid out everything you need to know about stress, from the causes, to the effects, stress relief treatments to try and also, how the wellness retreat programs here at New Life Portugal have been specifically designed to help you better manage stress.
Stress may be an incredibly common term in our contemporary lexicon, but defining stress isn’t particularly easy. Taking it back to basics, stress refers to any pressure – be it physical or emotional – placed on the body, which means when you feel stressed, it’s simply your body’s way of processing the trigger or situation in hand.
As humans, we have an in-built stress-response system, otherwise known as our fight or flight response. Whenever we face a threat or danger, our body kickstarts this system to help us survive. The problem is, the nervous system isn’t quite so good at figuring out which threats are truly dangerous or not, which means social, work or life pressures can lead to similar reactions as real life-threatening situations.
Stress itself causes spikes in stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which keep the body on high alert and can impact our sleep and relaxation. That means, if you constantly feel stress, you may find it particularly hard to switch off, making the burden of stress even stronger.
Sometimes caused by a single pressurised situation or experience and at other times the result of many smaller pressures piling up, stress has an endless number of potential causes. According to Mind, periods of stress are normally triggered by things like being under a lot of pressure, facing big life changes and having too many responsibilities, but it can also be caused by not having enough work, activity or change in your life. There are also social worries that are often cited as the cause of bouts of chronic stress: issues with friends, family or loved ones might make you feel stressed out
Although the effects of stress manifest differently depending on the individual, many health professionals separate the main symptoms into three main categories: physical, emotional and behavioural. These potential signs of stress include:
Physical symptoms of stress
Psychological symptoms of stress
According to Mind, those experiencing stress might feel all manner of symptoms from anxiety, nervousness or fear to depression, disinterest, loneliness or dread.
You might also become worried about your health or as though your mind is racing and you can’t slow it down or switch it off. It’s also common to feel irritable, short tempered or fed up.
Behavioural symptoms of stress
As the body and mind works to deal with stress, you might notice some unusual changes to your behaviour.
You might worry over things that never used to faze you or find yourself avoiding certain situations. You may have trouble making decisions or find it hard to concentrate.
Stress can cause some people to bite their nails, pick their skin, eat too much, eat too little or feel constantly on the verge of tears. Your social skills might suffer too: sometimes stress causes you to lash out at others, you may find it difficult to connect or you might find social situations unnerving or uncomfortable.
Many of the symptoms commonly associated with stress can be traced back to the hormones. Stressful situations or events trigger the nervous system, which in turn sends messages to the adrenal glands to produce different stress hormones.
One of the most well known stress hormones is adrenaline (also known as epinephrine). Once triggered, adrenaline circulates through the bloodstream and can cause a faster heartbeat, pulse rate and higher blood pressure. It also causes the breath to speed up in a bid to supply the brain with more oxygen to increase alertness.
If stress continues, the nervous system triggers a hormone cascade that eventually leads to the adrenal glands producing more cortisol to keep the body revved up and able to ‘fight off’ the impending threat.
According to research published in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, stress can also cause the body to produce more of the hormones glucocorticoids, catecholamines, growth hormone and prolactin, each working to utilise energy sources to help us cope with the stressful situation.
Work related stress is particularly common, as mounting tasks and pressures can cause feelings of anxiety, overwhelm and even lead to burnout. Furthemore, fear or uncertainty around job security can add to work stress.
Work stress is particularly widespread. In fact, The Labour Force Survey recently revealed that in 2019/2020, the total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety was 828,000, or the equivalent of 2,400 cases per 100,000 workers. According to Perkbox’s 2020 Workplace Stress Survey, 79% of British adults in employment commonly experience work-related stress.
Work stress is more common in public service industries such as education and healthcare and the main causes cited by respondents were tight deadlines, workload pressures, too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, short term stress can actually curb your appetite. When we feel stressed out, the nervous system requests that the adrenal glands produce the stress hormone adrenaline, which makes us feel alert, energised and as such, we’re less interested in eating.
However, if stress continues to build and goes untreated, the adrenal glands will start to produce cortisol which is believed to increase appetite.
That’s where the term ‘stress eating’ comes from, referring to the increased or excessive eating that we might indulge in throughout periods of stress.
When feeling stressed out, the ideal approach would be to remove whatever is causing your stress. However, that isn’t always possible, so it’s important to develop a series of tools or behaviours you can turn to to help you cope with stress. These might include:
With its ability to speed up breathing, practicing certain breathwork exercises can help you get your breath back under control during stressful situations which can have the knock-on effect of making you feel calmer and more prepared to cope.
Stress relief can come simply by talking about it. That might be speaking with a colleague or manager to help you better cope with workplace stress, or it might involve discussing your worries with a trusted friend or loved one. You might also wish to seek professional support, in the form of counsellors like those here at New Life Portugal.
After a bout of stress, it’s important to think about what you can do to reduce stress in the future. That might include planning tasks and situations ahead, developing in-the-moment mindfulness rituals or finding ways to take a step back and relax.
If stress becomes completely unmanageable, your doctor might prescribe medication for stress relief. As Mind flags, there’s no medication specifically designed to alleviate stress. There are, however, some medications which can help reduce the symptoms of chronic stress, such as sleeping pills, antidepressants or medications designed to treat some of the physical manifestations of stress such as high blood pressure.
Here at New Life Portugal, our wellness retreat was designed with the stresses of modern day life in mind. All of our programs are built around the central goal of helping our guests develop stronger emotional, physical and spiritual resilience, each of which work in tandem to help you cope better during periods of acute or chronic stress.
Our retreats are also based in theories of mindful living, and we arm our guests with practical mindfulness tools and rituals they can use to help them manage stress.
On a more basic level, taking a wellbeing break and immersing yourself in nature can be truly beneficial when dealing with stress. You’ll return to normal life with a clearer, stronger mind ready to set sturdier boundaries.
To find out more about the wellbeing retreat pathways on offer here at New Life Portugal, click here.
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