Is Something Disturbing You?
We’re coming towards the end of stress awareness month. But do you know what stress really is, how stress affects your health, and how can you live a less stressful life? Find out here!
The ancient Chinese recognised that our emotions have a huge impact on our health. Many acupuncture points treat disturbances of the Shen (the mind or spirit). Emotional disturbance is so often linked to disease, something that we’re just beginning to grasp in the West.
It’s not hard for our Shen to be disturbed in modern life. Devices that should have made life easier for us often become our masters. Unless we turn them off we can be contacted anywhere and anytime,. A dispute with a friend or a stranger can rage on over days in social media, the boss can email at 3am if he or she so wishes, ready to grab your attention over breakfast. There’s an increasing drive to be perfect; young women spend hours becoming Instagram glam or Facebook ready. What should be a fun night out must surely be spoiled by the need to look good for the camera. And anxiety levels in young people are in the increase.
Parents stress about providing constant entertainment for their children and then, as they get older, there’s the stress of getting them into the right school so they can get good grades for the right university in the hope of giving them the best chance in today’s tough job market. And then there’s the stress of an ageing population. Medicines today do a fantastic job of keeping us alive for longer, but not always with the quality of life we’d like, and there’s an increasing need for people who would normally be looking forward to their own retirement to spend this time caring for elderly relatives.
It’s no wonder that stress is now one of the main health issues in the developed world. But how much do you really know about stress? Do you understand what it is, how to recognise it and, more importantly, the toll stress can take on your health?
What IS stress ?
We often think of stress as the result of too much bad stuff happening in your life; the angry boss with unrealistic expectations, the badly behaved teenager about to go off the rails, the demanding elderly parents.
These things can all cause us stress because of the way they make us feel. And our feelings control our body chemistry, releasing hormones that tell our bodies to react in certain ways.
But the causes of stress aren’t always obvious. Our nervous systems react to change; changes in diet, temperature, and even our level of exercise, can all cause us stress. And so can the good things in life. Too much excitement is not always good for your health. The marathon runner may love being fit enough to run 26.2 miles, the adrenaline junkie may love jumping out of planes. Fine as occasional challenges but pursued relentlessly, these things can make your health suffer!
A little stress is no bad thing. It’s perfectly normal. A stress free life would be pretty dull and a rush of adrenaline can be useful when we’re in the way of the way of an oncoming car or about it make a challenging presentation. But ongoing stress can have a serious impact on our health.
Stress and your health
Your body is very accommodating . It adapts to stress. That sounds great, but a human body can only take so much. In his book “The Stress of Life” scientist Hans Selye called these changes the General Adaptive Syndrome. General because whatever the cause of stress, it has a similar effect on your body.
Three things happen when you get stressed. Together, Seyle called these the alarm reaction. And remember these reactions happens no matter what the cause of stress is.
1. You start pumping out more stress hormones
Why? Your adrenal cortex, becomes enlarged and overstimulated and starts producing more steroid hormones including cortisol. These steroid hormones do lots of things.
They control your metabolism, so impact on weight and how effectively you use the nutrients you eat. This is why many people initially lose weight under stress. And they control the balance of water within our bodies. They also affect your immune system, leading us into number 2…..
2. Your immune systems become damaged, so your more susceptible to illness.
Why? because the thymus, Spleen, lymph nodes and other lymphatic structures shrink, and our white blood cells reduce in number.
And the third? although it’s now thought there’s no link between stress and ulcers, yet Selye found ulcers in the stressed subjects of his studies.
No one can continue in the alarm stage indefinitely. If the stressor continues to be present in your life, your body adapts and the changes reverse. You move to a hot or cold climate and eventually begin to tolerate it more easily. Work your muscles hard and they become stronger. That sounds great doesn’t it? But not if you are continually exposed to stress. Eventually there’ll be a recurrence of the initial alarm reaction when your body has used all its resources. Then you move onto stage 3 , exhaustion. You can’t go on any more. And if body and spirit are still attached there’ll be some serious warning signs; heart attack, serious infection, nervous breakdown. You get the picture!
Are you stressed?
Not sure? Or think you thrive on stress? Look out for these common signs……..
1. Dry mouth and throat
2. Feeling emotionally unstable. This could manifest in impulsive behaviour.
3. An urge to cry or run away and hide
4. Inability to concentrate
5. Feeling weak, dizzy, or having a sense of unreality.
6. A tendency to fatigue
7. “Floating” anxiety - feeling generally anxious without knowing why.
8. Trembling or nervous ticks
9. Feeling tense or over alert
10. High pitched nervous laughter.
11. Stuttering or other speech difficulties
12. Being easily startled.
13. Grinding your teeth.
15. Moving around a lot for no reason.
16. Sweating more.
17. Needing to go urinate a lot.
18. Diarrhoea, queasiness, indigestion, perhaps even vomiting.
19. Tension headaches or migraines.
20. Neck or upper back pain.
21. Premenstrual tension or changes to your menstrual cycle.
22. Losing your appetite or eating more.
And if you find yourself reaching for the wine/whiskey glass, or cigarettes more often it could be that you’re reacting to stress. The same applies for drugs- even if you get them on prescription.
What can you do to calm your Shen?
Simple changes are often the best. Our lives now are unnatural in many ways. Often, the things that help us most take us back to a more natural way of living and cost little or nothing.
Try a digital detox
Do you find yourself feeling lost without your smartphone or tablet to hand? Do you check your phone when you’re with friends, eating, or in a meeting? If so perhaps things have gone a little too far. Make a conscious effort to leave your gadgets in another room, silence them, or turn them off.
Get away from screens and out in nature as much as possible. And ask yourself if you really need to take your phone with you!
Connect with real people.
Online friendship can be great for keeping in touch with people we rarely see, or letting lots of people know what we’re up to. And mobile phones are fantastic for letting a friend or colleague know you’re running late or for ringing the break down people if your car decides it’s had enough. But we’re set up to react to real humans. To understand the tiniest change in expression, or the intonation of the words. And being with those we love helps us to release good hormones like oxytocin that protect our health.
Meditate or practice awareness
You don’t have to sit cross legged for hours. Often just a few minutes a day watching your breath or being completely aware of where you are and what you’re doing can make all the difference.
And if that still sounds too way out, try something that takes all your attention, like reading an engrossing book or playing a musical instrument.
Have a look at your diet
Can what we eat or drink make us stressed? It seems so. Caffeinated substances such as coffee or sugar can cause stress because of the hormonal changes they trigger.
Of course, I’d also recommend some acupuncture. When you’re struggling it can be useful to have a little help. In basic terms, acupuncture stimulates the nervous system which then makes biochemical changes. And, as your treatment is tailored to you, those changes will be too.