Are You Showing Signs of Stress?
Because we live such hectic lives it seems increasingly hard for people to distinguish between normality and stress. Ask people if they think their lives are stressful and most will say either yes, often or mostly. Ask people how they know they are under stress and the answers become a little more vague. Some may say they feel more irritable, others that they don't sleep so well. There are however some very clear signs of stress that don't necessarily jump to mind so I'd like to explore a few of these in this Sharepost, by posing a few questions:
Do you have an automatic blood pressure machine at home? These days they are cheap to buy and give a pretty reliable reading. My own family doctor just happens to use the same brand as me and it's not costly. As our levels of anxiety and stress increase so the effects can be seen in blood pressure. The genes know to influence the narrowing of blood vessels are affected by the stress hormone, cortisol. The higher the supply of cortisol the more continuous the narrowing of vessels becomes. Blood pressure then starts to rise and all the health risks associated with high blood pressure, notably heart disease and strokes, increase. Buying a small battery-operated blood pressure machine is, in my view, a good investment. You can regularly monitor your blood pressure and pulse rate and take steps to reduce blood pressure as and when required.
Do you increasingly find it difficult to recall information, words, names, or solve problems? When cortisol is released into the bloodstream it suppresses our ability to rest and reduces the effectiveness of the immune system in favor of supplying energy. This has a number of implications for the body if the cortisol continues to flow. A person under stress is known to experience problems with reasoning and memory and this appears to be related in some way to high levels of cortisol.
Do you have more coughs and colds, feelings of generally being worn down, unmotivated and just plain tiredness? During long-term stress our immune system is down-regulated by the continuous levels of cortisol in the body. This weakens our immune system and increases the risk of infections. Once caught, infections can hang around for long periods of time. People with chronic levels of stress even have delayed repair times if their skin is subjected to cuts or abrasions. There is increasing evidence that some types of liver disease, lymphomas and cancers may also develop as a result of a weakened immune system.
Do you wake up with jaw ache or headache? Does your partner complain about you grinding your teeth during the night? Both instances may be due to stress. Bruxism, or teeth grinding is something of a social barometer. When the global economic downturn took hold dentists reported a 20 percent increase in cases of bruxism.
Do you feel your mood is generally lower than you'd like? In cases of depression people high levels of cortisol can be found. Sustained high levels of cortisol suppresses neurotransmission in the brain and this is one of the reasons why antidepressants are effective in some people. Stress may be technically different to depression but there is a huge overlap between the symptoms associated with depression. Prolonged stress is known to affect mood negatively.
I've written previously about the different ways that people experience stress. Some forms of stress appear positive and even necessary whilst others are much more toxic. It's also true that one person's pleasure may be another's poison. Stress is a highly individual issue so there's no point in trying to measure up to other people's thresholds. These differences in people probably have their basis in the mix of genes, upbringing and resilience.
The other thing to bear in mind is that our bodies don't operate on a fixed time schedule when it comes to recovering from stress. The fact that you give yourself a couple of days to come down from your symptoms isn't likely to impress your body. Sometimes you need to think differently in order to protect your mind and body from the future harmful effects that stress can bring.