Stress is a natural part of a functioning modern life. A little bit of stress is not only inevitable but can help you meet your daily challenges and motivate you to reach your goals. Studies have shown that good stress is vital for a healthy life. However, if stress continues to increase at a rate faster than what we can manage, it can then lead to a physical or mental ill-health.
How do you learn to recognise the difference between stress that optimises your wellbeing and the bad kind of stress that leaves you anxious and jittery? It is important to first understand how your body responds to stress.
|Acute response to stress||Chronic response to stress|
|Release of adrenaline||Fatigue, compromised immune system and potentially burn-out|
|Increased heart rate and blood pressure||Higher risk of cardiovascular disease|
|Blood flow directed away from internal organs towards skeletal muscles||Gut issues such as constipation and decreased absorption of nutrients|
|Changes in the way we feel and make decisions. We become more reactive than responsive.||Decreased working memory and cognitive function|
When you aren’t able to manage your stress adequately, your body will send you an early warning signal, such as one of the responses listed above. Symptoms arise differently in each person, and there is no need to be fearful when this happens.
Ultimately, what distinguishes good stress from bad is how you react or feel about the experience. People who are more aware of their bodies tend to be more resilient to stress.
Here are some signs that you might not be handling stress well:
- Increased irritability
- Mood swings
- Getting sick (colds/flus/infections) easily
- Difficulty getting quality sleep
- An increase in pain
- Feeling anxious
- Tightness in the neck and shoulder muscles
- A sudden change in body weight
- Sexual difficulties
- Difficulty with making decisions and concentrating
- Lack of enjoyment out of things you previously found pleasurable
Now that you know what to look for, how can you regulate your stress?
- Get moving! Exercise affects the physiological responses mentioned above to help the body regulate stress.
- Create some time for yourself and do something you enjoy
- Use either heat (sauna) or cold (cold shower / ice baths) as a form of micro-stress to down regulate your nervous system.
- Manage your commitments. Is there too much on your plate?
- Ask for help
- Speak to a professional or someone else that you trust
- Write down your thoughts. Getting them out of your mind and written down can help relieve some of the burden.
- Support your body as best you can with a healthy diet
- Try relaxation practices like meditation that have shown to improve mental health and reduce the risk of burn-out. There is an abundance of guided meditations on Youtube you can explore. This can help immediately destress while practicing awareness of the body.
The key is identifying good stress from bad stress. Learn to listen to your body and recognise the signs of stress. As long as it’s not chronic, stress can be a positive addition to your life.
Make an effort to reduce your chronic stress as much as possible, and add positive activities to promote good stress. It creates a healthy balance and a better quality of life.
“If you listen to your body when it whispers, you won’t have to hear it scream”
The team at Gold Coast Health & Performance is here to help you work through your symptoms of chronic stress and help you understand your body better so that you too can become friends with your stress.