April 2018 is Stress Awareness Month.
At times of stress, the nervous system reacts as the body’s response to threat, by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including cortisol, which rouse the body for action. This reaction was useful centuries ago when our choice of flight or fight was crucial to our survival, and occasionally in current times, when a quick reaction might stop us from running into the back of the car that has suddenly stopped in front, for example. As we have barely changed biologically for centuries, we still experience this hormonal response, though often to non-life threatening situations, such as relationship conflicts.
Symptoms of stress can be broken down into the following areas: cognitive, emotional, physical and behavioural.
Cognitive symptoms include negative impact to a variety of thought processes, such as poor memory or judgement, anxiety and excessive worrying, and issues with concentration.
Emotional symptoms of stress include a range of seemingly uncontrollable feelings, such as irritability, anger, depression, moodiness, loneliness and feeling overwhelmed.
Physical symptoms can include digestive problems, muscle aches, dizziness, nausea, rapid heart rate, chest pains, and recurring illness due to a lowered immune system. Cortisol can lower the immune system, so a person who suffers with chronic stress is likely to become ill, often.
Some of the behavioural symptoms of stress include, isolation from others, procrastination, not sleeping enough or lacking sleep, eating less or more than usual, fidgeting, nail biting and relying on alcohol, drugs or cigarettes to relax.
Spotting the Signs
These are all common symptoms of stress, and the list is not exhaustive. If you spot any of these indicators in someone you know, particularly if it is out of character or more prevalent than before, it is worth pausing to check out how they are and if there is anything they need support with.
Next time, we will look at leading experts’ ideas for coping with stress in more healthy ways.