In today’s fast-paced world stress and illness related to stress is common and is on the increase. We all have stress at sometimes in our lives, and indeed there are times when stress is necessary to help us move on from negative situations. But the demands on us today are increasing and so are our stress levels. Many of us do not recognise that we are stressed as it has become so normal, unless we face a very stressful event then we see it.
On this page:
- What is stress?
- Stress & Anxiety
- The effects of chronic stress
- Signs and symptoms of stress
- Causes of stress
- Treating stress
Stress is our body’s response to any kind of pressure or threat from a situation or life event. What constitutes as stressful will vary from person to person, as we all perceive our environments differently.
When there is a real or perceived sense of danger the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response, or ‘stress response’ kicks in. This is the release of stress hormones to activate our immune system and allow us to get ready to fight the threat or flee from it. Both are responses for protection. When working correctly you become alert, focused and energised to respond appropriately.
How the fight or flight response occurs
Sometimes the situation is not life-threatening, yet the stress response is appropriate as it is reacting to a pressure that we need to push through, for example when you hit the wall in a marathon or studying for an exam or job interview. In these situations, once the event has passed the body will return to its resting state, and there will be no negative effects on our health.
However, when we do not return to the resting state, that is when the persistent pressure on us, or we experience a series of negative events in succession, or we perceive or think about stressful situations, then we remain in the permanent state of fight or flight. In this state our body’s continue to produce and secret the stressor hormones, leading to chronic stress. Prolonged or chronic stress can be detrimental to both our physical and mental wellbeing.
Anxiety and stress are often seen as being intertwined, like the two sides of a coin. Stress is caused by excessive demands on the mind or body, for example by an event that induces worry or nervousness. Anxiety is that same worry and fear and is a reaction to the stress.
It is worth noting that not all anxiety or stress is bad, we need a certain amount in our lives to help motivate us to move on to better circumstances or situations.
Our nervous systems cannot distinguish between an emotional and a physical threat. So if we are reliving a stressful time in our minds, or are worried about an upcoming event, the body will activate the same physiological response in producing the stressor hormones. Likewise, our subconscious minds cannot determine what is real from what we are creating as a visualisation in our minds, and the result is the release of stressor hormones.
In today’s ever-increasing demanding world, we tend to get stressed out more frequently and can often live in a state of permanent stress as we become used to worrying about bills, our health, the environment, our work etc. This level of background stress becomes so normal for us we do not perceive it as stress.
This chronic stress manifests in us both physically and mentally. Stress Illness Syndrome is another name for Neurophysiological Disorders. This is a list of thirty-three disorders caused directly from stress which are now recognised by the medical world.
Unless we are faced with a sudden and traumatic event, such as a death, job loss or accident, we don’t normally see stress. It can creep up on us as we get used to what is going on around us and accept it without realising how much it is actually affecting us.
It is, therefore, necessary to look out for the signs and symptoms of stress in your life. These include:
- Excessive tiredness or lethargy
- Inability to sleep
- Eating too much or too little
- Withdrawing from others
- Putting things off for no real reason
- Nervous habits (eg nail-biting, picking at the skin around the thumbs)
- Becoming more reliant on alcohol or drugs to relax
- Pain (eg Fibromyalgia)
- A feeling of being run down
- Frequent colds or sickness
- Chest pain, rapid heart rate
- Irritable Bowels – constipation or diarrhoea
- Loss of sex drive
Mental Health Symptoms
- A feeling of loneliness and isolation
- Mood swings
- Lack of concentration]
- Memory problems
- Negative thinking
- Anxious or racing thoughts
- Constant worrying
We all have stressors in our lives. Some are needed to help us move forward in our lives, for example moving to a new job, and some are traumatic life events that we have no control over, such as the death of a loved one. How we are able to deal with such stressors will determine the ultimate effect on us physically and emotionally.
According to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, these are the top ten most stressful life events for adults that contribute to illness:
- Death of a spouse
- Marriage separation
- Death of a close member of the family
- Injury or illness
- Job loss
- Marriage reconciliation
However, not all stressors are external (ie situations or events). Some are internal or ‘self-generated’ by our own thoughts. Worry, overthinking, anxiety about what might happen are all negative thought processes that cause stress. The subconscious mind cannot determine what we are thinking about because of real events or if we are creating the scenarios of these events in our minds. But the physiological response in our bodies is the same – that is the production and release of the stressor hormones.
There are many ways in which you can help yourself if you feel stressed. The initial stage is recognising that you are stressed, this might seem obvious but as we have stated earlier stress has a way of creeping up on you so that it appears normal to live in a state of fight or flight.
Then you can do the any or all of the following to see what works best for you:
- Look for the cause of the stress and tackle the cause directly if you can.
- Talk to someone. Even just venting can help. Plus, others may have experienced something similar and offer supportive and helpful advice.
- Eat a healthier diet.
- Exercise – the release of endorphins (mood-enhancing hormones) will help lift you, plus feeling fitter also helps lift the mood.
- Relax – it is important to take time out, me-time if you like, to recharge. Many of us see this as a waste of time, but it is vital for our bodies and minds.
- Be Mindful – learn to take control of your thoughts and live more in the present moment instead of reliving old memories or creating possible negative scenarios of what could be.
- Good restful sleep – this is like hitting the reset button on our body and mind.
- Love yourself – we are often too hard on ourselves. So learn to be more gentle on yourself and know that you are doing your best.
How to deal with stress - we teach HOW to move forward
At The Hannon Clinic, our focus is on teaching the tools and techniques on how to move forward in life to live a full and balanced life. This is done through the understanding of the different types of thought we have, why we have them, and more importantly HOW to stop them.
The Distraction Process has been developed from Dympna Hannon’s own experience (read Dympna’s story) of having suffered two years of workplace bullying. This left Dympna extremely stressed, anxious and fearful.
The Distraction Process focuses on interrupting the negative habit loops of the subconscious mind that we develop over time and that causes stress and anxiety.
Where counselling helps you to understand the causes of the stress, by you exploring and examining your own experiences, thoughts and feelings, what we do is teach you how to move on from these and to create a more balanced life.
Physical Treatment of Stress
Stress manifests physically in our bodies. The most common form is muscle strain in the upper back, neck and shoulder muscles. Other disorders include headaches, fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), as the full list can be found on our Neurophysiological Disorders page.
At The Hannon Clinic, we look to find the cause of the pain and work to clear that as well as treat the physical symptoms. Our treatments may involve the gentle manipulation of the skeletal structure and the massage of muscles to free off any strain or tightness.
If you're feeling stressed then please don't hesitate to contact us for a FREE consultation with our mental health specialist at our Belfast clinic in Northern Ireland.