Stress is a phenomenon that helps people cope with difficult situations and is primarily a protective physical response. As such, it should not be viewed as purely negative. When we are stressed, our body thinks it's under attack and switches to fight or flight mode.

The brain releases various hormones (adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine) to prepare us physically to either fight or flee. Blood is diverted away from our gut to our muscles, our heart rate increases, our pupils dilate and the hair on our arms and neck stands on end. This enables us to focus our attention so we can quickly respond to the situation.

Stress only becomes destructive when it exceeds a certain threshold. In the modern world, the fight or flight mode can still help us survive dangerous situations, for example reacting swiftly to a person running in front of our car by slamming on the brakes. The challenge is when our body goes into a state of stress in inappropriate situations. When blood flow is going only to the most important muscles needed to fight or flee, brain function is minimised. This can lead to an inability to focus or think straight - a state that is a great hindrance in both our work and home lives. If we are kept in a state of stress for protracted periods, it can be detrimental to our health. Having elevated levels of cortisol and other stress hormones can have a negative effect on all of our organs.

Recognising stress and anxiety: what are the symptoms?

Physical symptoms:

  • Frequent headaches, neck ache, back pain, muscle spasms
  • Jaw clenching or pain, teeth grinding
  • Stuttering or stammering, trembling of lips, hand tremors
  • Nervous fidgeting or feet tapping
  • Light headedness, faintness, dizziness, ringing, buzzing or "popping sounds" in ears
  • Frequent blushing, sweating or cold or sweaty hands and/or feet
  • Dry mouth, problems swallowing
  • Frequent colds, infections, or cold sores (herpes)
  • Rashes, itching, hives, "goose bumps "or un unexplained or frequent allergy attacks
  • Heartburn, stomach pain, nausea, excess belching, flatulence, constipation or diarrhoea
  • Difficulty breathing, frequent sighing
  • Panic attacks
  • Chest pain, palpitations, rapid pulse
  • Diminished sexual desire or performance
  • Increased or decreased appetite and weight gain or loss without diet
  • Constant tiredness, weakness, fatigue and sleep problems

Emotional and cognitive symptoms:

  • Feeling overloaded or overwhelmed with excess anxiety, worry, guilt and nervousness
  • Increased anger, frustration, hostility and overreaction to petty annoyances
  • Feelings of loneliness or worthlessness or suicidal thoughts
  • Depression, frequent or wild mood swings, frequent crying spells
  • Insomnia, nightmares, disturbing dreams
  • Difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, disorganization, confusion or racing thoughts
  • Difficulty in making decisions and learning new information
  • Little interest in appearance and time keeping

Behavioural symptoms:

  • Increase in obsessive or compulsive behaviour
  • Increased number of minor accidents or sports injuries
  • Reduced work efficiency or productivity and problems in information sharing and communication
    • May result in lies or excuses to cover up poor work
  • Excessive defensiveness or suspiciousness
  • Social withdrawal and isolation, loss of sense of humour and becoming demotivated
  • Frequent use of over-the-counter drugs and/ or increased smoking, alcohol or recreational drug use
  • Excessive gambling or impulse buying or reckless behaviour, trouble with the law

Treating stress and anxiety - what are the options?
If you're stressed, whether by your job or by something more personal, the first step to feeling better is to identify the cause. Good stress management tools include building emotional strength, taking control of your situation adopting positive and healthy lifestyle choices, having a good social network and adopting a positive outlook on a daily basis.

If you would like to find out more about this subject, then please GetInTouch