Body & Fitness

5 things you should know about stress

Stress can be a good thing

Becoming stressed is a way of protecting us from danger. Say you’re waiting to cross the road and a car comes hurtling towards you. The instant you realise you’re under threat, the stress response will kick in and a number of things will happen to your body, including:

Your pupils will dilate to improve your vision.

Your heart will beat quickly and forcefully, preparing your body to take action.

Your blood pressure rises, so oxygen can be delivered quickly to all parts of your body.

Your respiratory passages open up so your lungs can take in more air and breathing becomes faster and deeper.

The energy supply to your limbs is increased to enable them to function more powerfully and for longer periods of time.

Blood flow to your skin is reduced and sweating occurs. This lowers your body temperature and keeps you cooler during sustained muscle activity.

These changes to our bodies are designed to help us deal with the threat to our safety, enabling us to, hopefully, jump out of the way of the car. This behaviour is often referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response. It dates back to caveman days, when humans were faced with attacks from creatures like sabre-toothed tigers and needed to either defend themselves or run away.

Today, short bursts of stress can be good for us – they can trigger chemicals that can improve our memory, increase our energy and cause us to become more alert and productive. Without the challenges and stimulation that can cause stress, none of us would learn and grow.

In the 21st century, however, worrying about everything from paying the mortgage to bringing up kids or keeping the boss happy leads to chronic stress. When we go into fight or flight mode regularly, the constant chemical changes in our body are not good for us.

You can be stressed and not realise it

You would think we’d notice when our body goes into fight or flight response but if it happens all the time, we can become used to it. Frequent headaches, tense muscles and trouble sleeping are all classic signs of stress, yet many people think they are normal and put up with them. other signs of stress include:

Anxiety

Back pain

Constipation or diarrhoea

Depression

Fatigue

High blood pressure

Relationship problems

Shortness of breath

Stiff neck

Upset stomach

Weight gain or loss

If you’re suffering any of the above problems, or noticing other signs of tension such as clenching your hands into fists, then there is a very good chance that you are stressed. The good news is that recognising the symptoms of stress is the first step in treating it.

Stress does cause health problems


Suffering from stress can actually cause or worsen serious illnesses. It can play a part in:

Heart disease

Stroke

Ulcers

Depression

Diabetes

Some experts believe stress can also worsen inflammatory conditions such as colitis and eczema, as well as autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and multiple sclerosis. It may also contribute to asthma and infertility.

It’s not what happens to you that makes you feel stressed; it’s how you react to it

The next time you’re stuck in a traffic jam, look around at the other drivers. Some seem unhappy – frowning, fidgeting in their seats and tapping the steering wheel in frustration. others, however, appear completely unfazed by the hold-up – perhaps deep in thought or singing along to the radio.

It is our reaction to certain events that determines how stressed we become. our stress threshold is affected by a variety of factors including personality, upbringing, and ingrained habits.

Some of us are born worriers who often have unrealistic expectations and fret about everything. others are more easy-going and relaxed, and it takes a lot to faze them.

However, being naturally prone to stress doesn’t mean you can’t change your behaviour. If you’re aware of the warning signs and are prepared to change the way you react to them, you may be able to avoid becoming stressed.

Changing the way you think can affect how stressed you get

Negative thinking plays a huge part in suffering stress. How you feel is determined by the thoughts that go through your mind. If you think you are about to have a difficult day, you probably will have one.

To change the way you think, you first have to recognise when you’re thinking unhealthy thoughts. Start noticing when you have thoughts like, “I can’t handle this” Swap these negative thoughts for positive ones such as, “I’ll get through this.”

Ask yourself if the situation really is worth worrying about, and if so, how it rates on a scale of one to 10 (10 being a life-threatening disaster and one being barely worth a second thought). You may find something you worry about doesn’t actually score more than two or three.

Negative thinking may be a bad habit you’ve had for years and you won’t change it overnight. It takes practise and you will have to be constantly aware of your thoughts. Keep it up for long enough and you’ll find yourself reacting to situations more calmly.

Tips for dealing with stress

Don’t worry about things you can’t control – like the weather.

Prepare, to the best of your ability, for events that you know may be stressful, such as a job interview.

Try to look at change as a positive challenge, not as a threat.

Set realistic goals at home and at work.

Exercise regularly.

Eat well-balanced meals.

Get enough sleep.

Take time out for yourself.

Learn relaxation techniques.

Prioritise tasks, doing essential jobs first.

Talk to friends, family, or a professional about what’s bothering you.

Don’t try to be perfect.

Related stories


Get The Australian Woman’s Weekly NZ home delivered!  

Subscribe and save up to 38% on a magazine subscription.