The exams are coming up. You’ve an interview for the job you want. Or perhaps you’re heading around to meet the in-laws for the first time. The stress.....aargh!!!
We all recognise those stressful scenarios. But what does it mean when we say we are stressed? At its most basic level stress is our body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event. Stress can differ from person to person. It can be social or economic circumstances, the environment we live in or our genetic makeup. But there are some common situations that can make us all feel stress.
These can include experiencing something new or unexpected, something that threatens your sense of self, or something which makes you feel you have little control over a situation. A lot of us would consider stress a bad thing. But sometimes a stress based response can be an appropriate, or even a beneficial reaction.
The resulting feeling of ‘pressure’ can help us to push through situations that can be nerve-wracking or intense, like running a marathon, or giving a speech to a large crowd or even (in my case) writing a series of articles about mental health. Most of us are very capable of dealing with short term stress. But when it comes to chronic situations, or experiencing endless feelings of stress, the risk of developing depression and anxiety in some people certainly increases.
According to research the earliest response to stress happens in the brain within seconds of perceiving a ‘stressor’. Chemicals which signal between nerve cells are released. Following this, stress hormones appear, which particularly affect areas of the brain which are key for memory and regulating emotions.
There are several signs of stress that we portray such as changes in emotions, behaviour, sleep patterns, sexual or eating habits and the way we interact with those closest to us. There are also physical sensations one might feel when stressed, such as headaches, nausea and indigestion. You may breathe rapidly, perspire more, and have various aches and pains.
Research has also linked long-term stress to gastrointestinal conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS),stomach ulcers or cardiovascular disease.
Reading this I’m sure some of you are familiar with the feelings described above and may have felt stressed and overwhelmed at some time or another. It can certainly manifest differently from person to person. For some people, getting out of the door on time each morning can be a very stressful experience. Whereas others may be able to cope with a great deal of pressure.
So how do we manage stress?
Mindfulness is one way of helping alleviate stress and anxiety.
Mindfulness teacher Pauline Rogers from Bawn Holistic (www.bawnholistic.com) in Mullinalaghta told me: “If greater well-being isn't enough of an incentive, scientists have discovered that mindfulness techniques help improve physical and mental health in a number of ways. Mindfulness can: help relieve stress, treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce depression, reduce chronic pain and improve sleep. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress.”
Usually the negative effects of stress outweigh the positive but it is important to not only recognise the triggers of stress but also to understand that stress can be successfully managed.
So the next time someone asks how you are and you reply “stressed” do ask yourself why and also ask yourself how you’re managing it.
My Dad has often said to me: “Nothing is ever as bad as it seems “ and you know to an extent he’s not wrong.