Your alarm is ringing at its loudest while you figure out its position and put it on snooze. You go back to sleep for about an hour until you realise that you're running way too late for work. In the rush, you manage a quick bath, put on whatever you can lay your hands on, grab an apple or a pre-prepped sandwich and head out. Stress level: low.
You are running terribly late for work and to make the situation worse, the metro is not on time or the traffic refuses to ease out. Battling against all odds, you try to make it to work to attend a very important meeting. Stress level: medium.
You are running behind schedule and still have pending work from the previous day. Then your boss hands you a pile of reports to work on with a strict deadline of 4 pm. You look at your watch and your mind goes blank as you realise that you've just skipped an important meeting. Stress level: going through the roof!
This was an attempt to paint a picture of the regular stressful life lead by many. Those of us who are parents would just not stop ranting about the incessant juggle between work, home and of course, the kids. Unfortunately, this is now a reality. Stress has become such an inseparable part of our day to day lives that most of us don't realise that we are undergoing it. It is only when our exhausted mind and body shout out signals that the realisation actually dawns upon us.
Stress is not always bad, little bouts of it can actually help people work better, focus and speed up on efficiency. However, one really needs to be careful to ensure that it doesn't start hampering one's health.
Simply put, whenever we are exposed to situations or environments that may be indicative of an impending threat, danger or a challenge, our body puts on a defense mode which triggers a 'fight-or-flight response'. It is due to this process that a person is able to take charge of the situation or, in some cases, give up and break down. Basically, while under a stressful situation - also known as stressors - our body releases a couple of hormones - cortisol and adrenaline - that activate the body's emergency actions to combat the adversary situation.
Our Body under Stress
The following happens when we experience stress:
Increased heart/pulse rate
Rapid and heavy breathing
Increased blood pressure
Most people experience intense sweating as well as sweaty palms. High levels of stress may also mess with sleep pattern, appetite, digestive and immune system.
Acute Stress and the Ill-effects
As discussed earlier, short spells of stress are unavoidable and are also good for us. It is when things get out of hand that one should really be wary of the condition culminating into dangerous and severe outcomes. Chronic stress not only meddles with our day to day roles and basic bodily functions but also makes our body susceptible to risks of heart diseases, high blood pressure, depression, damaged immune system, obesity and so on. It may also lead to unhealthy lifestyle habits like drug abuse, over-indulgence in alcohol or tobacco, over-eating.
Where to draw the line?
The idea here is to understand how much is fine and when is it that a person should really consider seeking help or taking an action against stress. Given below is a list of symptoms indicative of acute or chronic stress that can damage health severely. This will help you bracket your condition accordingly.- Frequent spells of anger, anxiety, mood swings, irritability
- Feeling lonely or isolated from the society
- Indecisiveness, inability to make judgments
- Lack of focus, attention, concentration
- Feeling depressed
- Erratic sleep pattern and eating habits
- Indulgence in tobacco, alcohol to lessen stress
- Upset digestive system
- Weak immune system - prone to viral infections, flu
- Bodily discomfort and aches
- Lack of stamina
- Felling lazy, tired, lethargic
- Nail biting, skin picking, pacing - nervous habits
- Inability to unwind and relax
It is often said that some of the most successful people often lose their sleep to stress, but the point to be noted is the fact that had they not learnt to manage stress well, they wouldn't have reached that far. Stress management is a combination of your perspective and attitude towards life and problems, how you decide to take charge of things, your emotional strength, lifestyle and a lot more. Positive thinking and a stance of acceptance towards most things in life certainly help in avoiding unnecessary stressful situations. Experts suggest meditation, breathing exercises and yoga as few activities that aid in tackling stress and keeping it at bay.
Your work can certainly become a huge cause of stress. Those post work mails that keep coming in late at night can obviously mess with your sleep and your personal plans. In such cases, the only way to beat stress is to disconnect, in fact, disconnect for a while from anything that is the cause of stress. Take a break, come back and start afresh. Also, sleep well, talk it out with your friends or family and make sure you exercise regularly and find some 'me time' every day to pamper yourself or pursue your interests.
Apart from these, maintaining a good diet is essential. When your body is at its optimum health, the brain's functioning as well as your ability to deal with the 'stressors' are quite high. Monitor your caffeine intake, avoid alcohol and tobacco, watch what you are eating and take your meals on time.
The Food-Mood Connection
According to experts, consuming foods that help in production of serotonin helps in feeling positive, keeping chronic stress at bay. These include oats, carbs, and green leafy veggies like spinach that are great for busting stress. Consuming oranges, fish, nuts, chocolate, avocados, milk and green tea also helps. Apart from these, foods enriched with vitamins B and C, omega 3 and magnesium also aid in stress management.