Stress is one of those buzz words everyone uses at some point, we talk about being stressed out, managing stress, positive and negative stress.
Stress is an unavoidable fact of life. Without the stress response, there would be no life.
The effect of stress is very much like the act of pulling a violin string.
Not enough produces a dull, raspy sound, while, too much makes a shrill, annoying noise, or causes the string to snap. However just the right degree can create magnificent tones. In the same manner, each one of us needs to find the exact level of stress required to promote optimal performance.
Stress is the “wear and tear” our bodies experience as we adjust to our continually changing environment; it has physical and emotional effects on us and can create positive or negative feelings.
As a positive influence, stress can help compel us to action; it can result in a new awareness and an exciting new perspective.
As a negative influence, it can result in feelings of distrust, rejection, anger, and depression, which in turn can lead to health problems such as headaches, upset stomach, rashes, insomnia, ulcers, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
The total absence of stress, acts as a depressant and may lead to boredom or dejection, on the other hand, excessive stress may leave us feeling “tied up in knots”
Hans Selye described the three stages of our general adaptation syndrome three phase response as: alarm, carabolic and recovery.
The stress reaction has the following phases:
an active phase, alarm phase, known as fight or flight response.
- cathecolamine response.
- the brain heightened arousal and related reflexes
a metabolic’endocrine phase:
- mobilises energy stores water and inhibits water excretion
- the trigger of the mediators of the chronic phase.
Delayed catabolic phase:
- primary endocrine-metabolic stage
- the primary mediator, cortisol, is produced by the adrenal cortex
the reduced body defense mechanisms lead to:
- collateral damage, lymphokines, pyrogens, prostaglandins
Stress Related Pathology
The following pathological conditions are related to chronic stress:
- peptic ulcers, asthma, hypertension
- effects of stress on worsening underlying diseases such as cardiovascular and diabetes.
The Neuronal Adaptation to Stress
The neurotransmitters trigger the activation of a second messenger with an altered phosphorilation of the enzyme substrates in the cellular cytoplasm.
The mediators of the delayed response act as response elements in altering transcription rates: cortisol and thyroid hormone.
The neuro-endocrinology of stress The hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis is the Interphase between CNS and endocrine responses.
Input from limbic areas of the brain.
Pituitary and adrenal gland products have feedback loops onto the acis.
Stress and Immunology
- Both cellular and humoral systems are affected by stress.
- Feedback loop: Immune components affect the CNS and CNS components affect the immune system. Major mediators are the steroids, they act to prevent an overreaction to inflammation.
- Consider the effect of stress on chronic viral conditions. Recrudescence and increased viral burden.
Role of the CNS in Immune Functions
The immune system acts as an internal sensory network
CNS affects immune function by three mechanisms:
- HPA Hypothalamus-pituitary axis
- Innervation of immunopoietic organs
- Release neurotransmitters into blood. Common receptor types
The degree to which being under chronic stress affects our body-mind connection depends mainly on our ability to develop coping mechanisms before any damage occurs.
The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) response to stress varies from one person to another.
Depending on a dominant imbalance of the sympathetic and parasympatheric nervous system, the stress response will manifest itself in a different way.
Conditions Resulting as a Response to Stress
- suppressed immune responses.
- overactive immune responses
- allergies arising in the respiratory, digestive and integumentary systems.
- Inflammations that have no obvious external source.
- Impaired digestive functions.
- Migraine headaches and other muscular and vascular spasms.
- Skin irritations or inflammations.
- Urinary inflammations or irritations.
Some of the common psychological reactions to stress are:
- depression and suppression of mental capabilities.
- unexplained irritability triggered by minor issues.
- inappropriate impatience or anger.
- loss of concentration.
- obsessive thoughts and behaviour.
- breakdown of synaptic functions.
Some of the behavioural changes due to chronic stress include:
- overuse-abuse of alcohol, drugs and food.
- disruptions in sleep patterns and quality.
- disruptions in sexual activity and drive.
- disruptions in work performance.
- increasing complaints of boredom..
- increasing compulsive behaviour.
- inability to relax and do nothing.
The normal and effective functioning of organs such as the kidneys, the liver, the heart, the pancreas and the adrenals is diminished due to prolonged, chronic stress.
stress management is the art that helps you to keep yourself at a level of stimulation that is healthy and enjoyable.
In extreme stress the lymphatic system may override the autoimmune response.
Conditions arising from negative stress:
Allergies, alopecia, arthritis, celiac disease, Chronic Fatigue, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, eczema, fibromyalgia, insomnia, lupus, nephritis, respiratory disorders.
Key Symptoms of Stress
Irritability, tension, headaches, palpitations, chest pains, and sleeplessness. Some of the main stressors in our lives are the following:
cumulative effect of anxiety and daily tension, imbalance in the fight-flight responses, stress at work, stress in the home, stressors like illness and injury, hidden stressors in the environment
Major Sources of Stress
It has been found that the following are amongst the most common sources of stress:
Survival Stress adrenaline is released in your body and you experience all the symptoms of your body preparing for “fight or flight.”
Internally Generated Stress
This can come from anxious worrying about events beyond your control, from a tense, hurried approach to life, or from relationship problems caused by your own behaviour. It can also come from an “addiction” to and enjoyment of stress
Environmental and Job Stress
Here your living or working environment causes the stress. Fatigue and overwork when you are not using effective time management techniques.
Internally Generated Stress & Anxiety
Your personality can affect the way in which you experience stress. You may be familiar with the idea of “type A” personalities who thrive on stress, and “type B” personalities who are mellower and more relaxed in their approach.
Albert Ellis listed the five main unrealistic desires or beliefs that cause anxiety:
- The desire always to have the love and admiration all of whom you love.
- The desire to be thoroughly competent at all times.
- The belief that external factors cause all misfortune.
- The desire that events should always turn out as you want them to.
- The belief that past bad experience will inevitably control future events.
How to Recognize Your Stress Levels
Here are tips to help you notice that you are under stress levels which may damage your health
The symptoms are organised into the following sections.
Short Term Physical Symptoms
These mainly occur as your body adapts to perceived physical threat, and are caused by release of adrenaline.
Faster heart beat, increased sweating, cool skin, cold hands and feet, feelings of nausea, or “butterflies in stomach” ,rapid breathing,, tense muscles, dry mouth, a desire to urinate , diarrhea.
Short Term Performance Effects
Interferes with clear judgment and makes it difficult to take the time to make good decisions, seriously reduce enjoyment of work, gets in the way of fine motor control, makes difficulties seen as a threat, not a challenge, damages the positiveness by: promoting negative thinking, damages self-confidence, narrows attention, disrupts focus and concentration and consumes mental energy in distraction, anxiety, frustration and temper.
Long Term Physical Symptoms
Amongst the most frequent long term stress symptoms we have: change in appetite, frequent colds, illnesses, asthma, back pain, digestive problems, headaches, skin eruptions, sexual disorders, aches and pains, feelings of intense and long-term tiredness
Internal Symptoms of Long Term Stress
This can lead to the following internal emotional “upsets” :
worry or anxiety, confusion, and an inability to concentrate or make decisions, feeling ill, feeling out of control or overwhelmed by events, mood swings, depression, frustration, hostility, helplessness, impatience& irritability, restlessness, being more lethargic, difficulty sleeping, drinking more alcohol and smoking more, changing eating habits, reduced sex drive.
Being under pressure, can show itself as: talking too fast or too loud, yawning,, drumming fingers, pacing, bad temper, irritability, defensiveness, being critical, aggression, irrationality, overreaction, reacting emotionally, reduced effectiveness, unreasonable negativity, making less realistic judgments, being unable to concentrate and having difficulty making decisions, being more forgetful, making more mistakes, being more accident prone, changing work habits, increased absenteeism, neglect of personal appearance.
Burn-Out occurs where highly committed people lose interest and motivation.
Typically it will occur in hard working, hard driven people, who
- become emotionally, psychologically or physically exhausted.
- find it difficult to say “no” to additional commitments or responsibilities
- have been under intense and sustained pressure for some time
- have high standards make it difficult to delegate to assistants
- have been trying to achieve too much for too long
- have been giving too much emotional support for too long
Symptoms of Burn-Out
Burn-out will normally occur slowly, over a long period of time. It may express itself physically or mentally.
The following symptoms are common: feeling of lack of control over commitments, incorrect belief that you are accomplishing less, growing tendency to think negatively, loss of a sense of purpose and energy, increasing detachment from relationships.
To avoid reaching burn out:
All those working very hard should take great care not to reach the stage of burn-out.
To avoid mental burn-out ensure that work remains fun: there is a limited supply of mental energy that should be respected. As people get better at what they do, others may want increasing amounts of their time, and will rely more and more on the knowledgeable person.
- Learn to say “No” to commitments that you do not want to take on.
- Re-evaluate your goals and prioritise them
- Evaluate the demands placed on you.
- Identify your ability to comfortably meet these demands.
- Reduce the commitments that are excessive
- Become more unapproachable and less sympathetic.
- Learn stress management skills
- Examine other areas in your life that are generating stress
- Ensure that you are following a healthy lifestyle
- Acknowledge your own humanity: remember that you have a right to pleasure and a right to relaxation
Where an individual has been under sustained stress for a long period of time, has suffered serious life crises, or has reached a stage of exhaustion and demoralisation, then breakdown may occur.
This may show itself physically as a heart attack, angina or a stroke, or may show as “nervous” or “mental” breakdown, where the sufferer becomes mentally ill. In the latter case symptoms may not be seen by the individual, but may be obvious to partners, friends and colleagues.
“Breakdown” sounds sudden and dramatic – in the case of physical breakdown it may be. Mental breakdown, however, may be slow in onset, and may be mild or severe. The following behaviour may occur: uncharacteristic, uncontrollable, irrational behaviour, intense and excessive anxiety , severe depression, obsessive activity – persistent performance of an irrational activity, or of a normal activity to an irrational degree, manic depression – depression interspersed with periods of euphoria, destructive and self-destructive behaviour.
10 Timely Tips to Reduce Stress
- Take 3 deep slow diaphragmatic breaths each day.
- Use regular relaxation periods for breaks. Try fifteen to twenty minute periods of (hopefully) undisturbed time away from phone and/or family. Use for four to six weeks to begin to see the benefits.
- Get regular exercise. Aerobic activities such as walking, jogging, swimming, biking, etc. for 20 minutes 3 times per week is minimum. Recommended is 30 minutes or more, 4-6 times per week. But do not hurt yourself.
- Eat sensibly. If you are stressed out.
- Get focused on new directions and regular planning. Give yourself positive options if you feel trapped.
- Develop your sense of humour. Positive attitudes really help difficulties, when viewed as opportunities for growth and proving your abilities, are less harmful.
- Protect yourself from negative relationships. Do not let others rip off your peace of mind and positive energy. Take good care of yourself.
- Get back in control. If you can not control all the people and situations that happen around you…. at least you can control the way you respond.
- Give sincere compliments freely and smile. Be positive and let it shine on all that surround you. It will come back many times more.
- Learn to really listen. It is the best communication technique that you can develop.
Aromatherapy Management of Stress
Aromatherapy is ideally situated to help to manage each and everyone of the levels of stress which are described previously, from managing the onset of stress and preventing situations where things may get out of hand by having trigger oils which will release anxiety, tension and worry, chosen on a personal consultation level, to treating the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical manifestations of stress with a view to reach the core and prevent further damage, as for example with personal blends for full body massage, the bath and the environment, either home or work, to having regular counseling sessions with a qualified aromatherapist and counselor, and working through the main issues.
Some of the key essential oils generally used as part of individual formulations are:
- Bergamot Citrus auranthium ssp bergamia
- Melissa oficinalis
- St. Johns Wort: Hypericum perforatum
- Petit grain Mandarin Citrus reticulata
- Linden blossom Tila europea
- Roman Chamomile Anthemis nobilis
- Lavender Lavandula angustifolia
- Rosewood Aniba rosaeodora
- Sandalwood Santalum album
- Nerolii Citrus auranthium ssp auranthium
Depending on the level and type of stress and the symptoms presented the treatments will require regular weekly visits to the aromatherapy clinic as well as home formulations for the bath and environment and personal perfumes which will help prevent and alleviate the onset of stress in the face of a known stressor such as a presentation, an interview, examination etc.