The Harms and Charms of Stress

April marks stress awareness month and, in honest truth, this month has certainly been a stressful one. With the looming unknown that COVID-19 has brought not only to our country, but to the rest of the world, there’s no surprise that 6 in 10 of us have felt anxious over the past weeks.

However, even without COVID-19, stress impacts a huge majority of us at some point in our lives and for some, it’s something they battle with every day. Unfortunately, stress isn’t a one-size-fits-all fight, it affects every single one of us in different ways. What might be incredibly stress-inducing to one person may be a walk in the park for another; it all depends on individual experience, environment and resilience.

The science of stress

When we perceive something as a threat or a potential stress, our body release a high amount of the hormone, cortisol. Cortisol creates a natural response known as ‘fight or flight’, the body’s evolutionary way of avoiding being injured or killed; it changes our bodily functions rapidly to keep us safe:

  • It raises glucose in the system
  • It helps the brain use this glucose more efficiently
  • It restrains all non-essential functions
  • It greatly alters the parts of our brains that control fear and motivation

Most people in the world will experience bouts of acute stress, especially at harder times in life such as moving to a new house, divorces or arguments. However, some then go on to suffer with more severe levels of stress, or chronic stress.

Whether short or long term, stress can be detrimental to the body and the mind, which can create numerous unresolved issues if left untreated.

The harms of stress

Again, the consequences of stress varies from case to case depending on a host of different reasons, but some of the more common symptoms include:

Physical

  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Weakened immune system
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Ulcers

Mental

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Increased difficulties with decision making
  • Panic disorder

But, is all stress bad stress?

The charms of stress

Not all stress is bad. In evolutionary terms, was always designed to keep us safe and that still holds true today – in fact, there are those who believe that our stress response is helpful and normal. For example, you may experience an element of stress on your wedding day, or perhaps before a big public talk. Both situations flood you with adrenaline, which can help with these stressful situations.

Either way, it’s important to note is that stress should be temporary. If you find yourself struggling on a daily basis, it’s time to seek help or deploy methods to control that anxiety.

How to help yourself during stressful times

There are a multitude of different ways to help reduce stress levels, for example:

  • Regular sleep
  • Spending less time in front of screens
  • Exercise
  • A healthy diet
  • Planning and scheduling to break big tasks into smaller, more manageable ones

These measures may be enough to help calm those overwhelming feelings, but for many, seeking professional medical help through counselling and medication is what’s required, and that’s perfectly fine.

If you find yourself needing help, look to speak to your GP or consult professional bodies, such as psychiatrists, psychologists or social workers. There’s help out there for everyone – never feel like you need to battle stress alone.