The negative impact of stress

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Did you know that between 75%-90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints? For this reason, it is important to understand the many different ways in which stress impacts our health and wellbeing.

This infographic guide provided by Aris Grigoriou of Study Medicine Europe shows how stress affects the body and also offers some practical pointers on stress management.

The reality is that stress itself isn’t bad. No, you read that right, stress really isn’t. Humans have evolved to recognise a stressful situation that might put their survival in danger, thus producing the fight-or-flight response and releasing hormones to either fight off the threat or flee to safety.

Good stress, called eustress, can actually be beneficial to you. Unlike bad stress, or distress, good stress can help with motivation, focus, energy, and performance. For some people, it can even feel exciting.

Encountering one or two stressors can usually be dealt with easily by most people in a typical day, but when the stressors build-up and there’s not sufficient time to rest and recover, the repeated activation of our natural physiological response starts to take their toll on the body and mind.

Research suggests that chronic stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction. More preliminary research suggests that chronic stress may also contribute to obesity, both through direct mechanisms (causing people to eat more) or indirectly (decreasing sleep and exercise). Harvard Health

Chronic stress (the constant over-activation of the stress response) can be difficult to identify. Some of the more common signs include:

  • rapid heart rate
  • elevated blood pressure
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • fatigue
  • difficulty sleeping
  • poor problem-solving
  • persistent thoughts about one or more stressors
  • changes in behaviour, including social withdrawal, feelings of sadness, frustration, loss of emotional control, inability to rest, self-medication and increased alcohol usage

There are a number of techniques that can be used to combat stress including

Relaxation Response

Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, has devoted much of his career to learning how people can counter the stress response by using a combination of approaches that elicit the relaxation response. These include deep abdominal breathing, focus on a soothing word (such as peace or calm), visualization of tranquil scenes, repetitive prayer, yoga, and tai chi.

Physical Activity

People can use exercise to stifle the buildup of stress in several ways. Exercise, such as taking a brisk walk shortly after feeling stressed, not only deepens breathing but also helps relieve muscle tension. Movement therapies such as yoga, tai chi, and qi gong combine fluid movements with deep breathing and mental focus, all of which can induce calm.

Social Support

Confidants, friends, acquaintances, co-workers, relatives, spouses, and companions all provide a life-enhancing social net — and may increase longevity. It’s not clear why, but the buffering theory holds that people who enjoy close relationships with family and friends receive emotional support that indirectly helps to sustain them at times of chronic stress and crisis.

How are you managing stress within your workforce?

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