Dr Michael Curtin explains how stress effects us and the many ways that we can reduce our stress to more manageable levels
What is stress?
In our busy lives we all feel pressure from time to time. This is normal. Pressure turns into stress when we start to feel unable to cope.
Some of the common causes of stress include money worries, work pressures and relationship issues.
How do I know when I am stressed?
When we are stressed, we feel anxious and irritable and may worry constantly, or go over and over things in our head. This can affect our sleeping patterns and cause difficulty in concentrating. Physical symptoms of stress can include headaches, muscles pains (especially in the neck andshoulders) and dizzy spells.
What happens when I am stressed?
When we are stressed, the sympathetic nervous system takes over and produces the “fight or flight” response. Three main hormones are released:
Adrenalin: This hormone is released from the adrenal gland and causes an increased heart rate and an energy surge, allowing us to run away from a dangerous situation if needed.
Noradrenalin: This hormone will help to make us more responsive. It helps to move blood away from the skin into muscles, ready for flight.
Cortisol: This hormone helps to maintain our blood pressure and fluid balance in a stressful situation. However, constant worry or anxiety causes chronically elevated cortisol levels which can increase blood sugar and blood pressure
How can I help myself when I am stressed?
It is difficult to prevent stress but there are lots of things we can do to help ourselves when stress starts to build up.
Exercise: Research has shown that physical activity can boost energy levels, help restore normal sleep patterns and improve low mood. It is an excellent stress buster.
Mindfulness: This is a way of reconnecting with our bodies and thoughts. Regular mindfulness training can teach us to recognise the signs of stress early and to put our worries into perspective.
Acupuncture: Acupuncture is a technique where needles are inserted into selected points on the body. The needles are very fine and insertion is not usually painful. It is thought that acupuncture may help to reduce the levels of stress hormones circulating in the body. A recent study of 82 medical students showed that acupuncture significantly reduced stress related symptoms http://aim.bmj.com/content/32/1/4.short. Acupuncture also can help to reduce muscle tension and stress related headaches.