People talk about being stressed a lot these days – but what does it mean? It’s the feeling you have when you aren’t able to cope under pressure. So imagine working to a deadline, and using that pressure to help you keep the pace up until you finish. That’s healthy. But then imagine that the pressure becomes something you can’t deal with, and you stop performing as efficiently. That’s stress.
Some people get more stressed than others, while some people find a particularly thing stressful (like their job, for example) and others don’t. The problem with stress is that it causes cortisol, ‘the stress hormone’ to be released into your body, so that you can deal with the potential problem, but if you’re always under stress it remains in your body, so the physical symptoms can linger. These include having difficulty sleeping, excessive sweating, loss of appetite, headaches, muscle pain, or dizziness.
Stress can also cause you to feel anxious. Anxiety is different from stress – it’s feeling uneasy or worried. Feeling like that can be totally normal, especially if you’re sitting your driving test the next day! But if you are suffering from stress, you might find you feel anxious or worried a lot of the time, and that the feelings are harder to control.
When you’re stressed and cortisol is released, at the same time serotonin (the ‘happiness hormone’) is reduced, as well as other neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine. When these chemical systems are working normally, they regulate biological processes like sleep, appetite, energy, and sex drive, and give us normal moods and emotions. But if you’re feeling stressed – not just about an individual incident, but over a long period, these complicated chemicals can’t right themselves – which can lead to depression in susceptible people.
The good news is that with some simple changes to your life, you can turn stress back into pressure and say no to its negative effects. It’s all about taking control and realising that by actively doing something about your problem, you are in charge of your own future. Make simple lifestyle adjustments, talk to your peers about things that are bothering you, and try and avoid unhealthy habits that are easy to fall into if you are stressed, like drinking and smoking.
A healthy diet is good for your health in so many ways, but did you know the right foods could help you say no to stress, too? Omega-3 fatty acids help brain cells to function and deal with stress more effectively, so stock up on oily fish and flax seed. Broccoli has folic acid, which aids stress reduction, and nuts are packed with magnesium, which seems to help keep cortisol levels low. And best of all dark chocolate contains more than 300 different compounds, including anandamide, a chemical that mimics marijuana’s effects on the brain, and theobromine, a mild stimulant.
As well as being an all round health-booster, physical exercise can boost production of serotonin, the happiness hormone. But as well as that, it can help you to clear you head and identify and deal with your problems more calmly and without becoming anxious or overwhelmed. You don’t need to take up a sport if it’s not your thing though – just 30 minutes of brisk walking a day will make a difference to your mental health.
Look after yourself
You only get one body – and if you don’t look after it, where are you going to live? Looking after it means having some ‘me time’, which is hard to come by these days as we all work hard and when we’re not working, many of us have family commitments. Take time out to enjoy a spa treatment or retreat designed to help ease stress – you might find it could be the kick-start you need to lead a more stress-free life.