The double-cost of worrying too much
Stress doesn’t just affect your mental well-being. It shows in your body, too.
In stressful situations, such as the global COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the economic recession, our bodies release cortisol and adrenaline as part of the age-old ‘fight or flight’ reflex designed to enhance our reactions.
These hormones elicit a response from the heart, and digestive and immune systems.
An excess of survival hormones can also bring about changes to your breathing, muscles, organs… the list goes on. Long-term stress could even increase the risk of a stroke or heart attack.
Get your stress under control
Do you recognise any of the symptoms below? Evaluate your stress levels with our checklist and then implement the tips to help reduce and manage stress in your life.
1. Nausea or vomiting; chronic headache or neck pain
Short periods of intense stress can induce nausea or even vomiting as your body releases adrenaline and cortisol to prepare for ‘fight or flight’. Similarly, long-term stress can cause muscle tension and lead to headaches or neck pain.
Protect yourself against stress by working out. Studies from the University of Basel show that cardio exercise can actually help your body deal with stress.
Head outdoors (when it’s allowed again, of course)
Hit the pause button for 10 minutes and head outside into the sun for a burst of nature’s happy pill, vitamin D.
2. Stomach problems or IBS; constant irritability
Constant tension can leave you feeling annoyed at the slightest provocation and cause longer-term physical problems such as a sensitive digestive system.
Relax your mind
Low-intensity, low-cost meditation-based therapies can lower anxiety levels. A few moments of slow breathing are an instant de-stressor.
Eat your five-a-day
Eating five to seven portions of fruit and veg a day puts you at lower risk of developing psychological stress, scientists in Sydney have found.
3. Drinking or smoking more; a loss of appetite; cravings
Alcohol, caffeine and nicotine are poor coping mechanisms for stress. These stimulants could cause the body to increase its stress responses or anxiety.
In the short term, stress suppresses our appetite, but over a longer period it’s been known to cause ‘stress snacking’ and play havoc with your weight.
Turn to a new hobby. Drumming, for example, has been found to be successful in tension-relieving therapies run by Stellenbosch University. Or just tune into your favourite music-radio station for an hour a day to help you cope with stress.
Take a holiday
Even just the act of planning leave feels like unburdening, but the important bit is then to go on that holiday, too. (When it’s safe to travel again…) If you can’t take several weeks off at once, opt for a few days each month instead.
4. Sleepless nights; loss of short-term memory; inability to concentrate
Stress becomes life-changing and affects important relationships if you toss and turn all night, every night. It will cause you to struggle to concentrate and retain even simple information.
Switch off 30 minutes before going to bed for a better rest. Being on your phone, laptop or tablet or watching TV disrupts your body’s melatonin production, which contributes to insomnia.
Make a list of tasks and break them down into manageable chunks and topics. You’ll sleep better and it will double as a memory aid.
5. Heart palpitations; chest pain; feeling out of control
Big trauma or intense prolonged periods of stress can be highly damaging and could have severe repercussions for your work-life balance and your sense of self-control.
Share your worries with a partner, family member or your boss. It will help you to take back control and they may offer a solution you haven’t thought of.
This information is intended as a guideline only. If you’re feeling unwell, don’t hesitate to see your GP to get professional guidance and the appropriate support.