As a physiotherapist, I see the physical manifestations of stress all the time. Some people carry a lot of tension in their neck and shoulders which then causes headaches. Others clench and grind their jaw at night, another cause of headaches and sometimes migraines and others have physical and psychological symptoms like IBS, insomnia or anxiety that I can’t help them with.
Stress isn’t always bad. In small doses, it can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best. Too much stress and your mind and body pay the price. If you frequently find yourself feeling frazzled and overwhelmed, it’s time to take action to bring your nervous system back into balance.
What is stress?
Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—the body's defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction. This is also known as the “stress” response.
Stress can be beneficial and protective. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can be lifesaving—giving you extra strength to defend yourself, for example.
Stress can also help you rise to meet challenges. It’s what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration during sports, or drives you to study for an exam.
Beyond a certain point, stress stops being beneficial and starts causing damage to your health and your quality of life.
Chronic stress and its’ effects
If you tend to get stressed out frequently—as many of us do in today’s demanding world—your body may be overly stressed most of the time. This can lead to many different health problems.
Health problems caused or exacerbated by stress include:
- Pain of any kind but especially headaches
- Anxiety and Depression
- Sleep problems
- Digestive problems
- Autoimmune diseases
- Weight problems
- Heart disease
- Skin conditions
- Reproductive issues
- Thinking and memory problems
What Causes Stress?
The things that cause stress are known as stressors. We usually think of stressors as being negative, such as too much work or relationship issues. However, anything that puts high demands on you can be stressful. This includes positive events such as going to college, getting married and getting a promotion.
Some stress can also be internal or self-generated. If you worry excessively about something that may or may not happen, or have irrational, pessimistic thoughts about life, you add to your stress
Everyone’s ability to cope with and tolerance for stress are different. One person may thrive with tight deadlines while another person worries that things won’t get done.
Common external causes of stress include:
- Financial problems
- Work or school
- Relationship difficulties
- Major life changes
- Being too busy
Common internal causes of stress include:
- Worrying about things that you cannot control
- Unrealistic expectations / perfectionism
Major stressful life events
- Death of a spouse
- Marriage separation
- Death of a close family member
- Injury or illness for you or someone you care for
- Job loss
Unfortunately, stress is a part of life and we are all going to be stressed or overwhelmed from time to time, ideally not chronically. Stay tuned next week as I discuss ways to deal with stress.