Don't let stress take you out: Managing chronic stress

Just about everyone will have felt the familiar signs and symptoms of stress at some point in their lives. Feeling overwhelmed, becoming snappy or irritated and suffering from fatigue and anxiety are all common hallmarks of stress.

While stress can be useful in some situations, knowing how to manage its impact can benefit your health and wellbeing.

All about stress

Stress is the body's natural reaction to situations that require you to adjust, respond or make changes, leading you to respond either physically, mentally or emotionally. While it can be annoying, experiencing stress is also a normal and sometimes necessary part of life.

The entire stress response begins in the brain, and it has served a very important purpose for humans over the years. You may have heard about the term ‘fight or flight’ – and this actually describes an acute stress response in the body.

Fight or flight kicks in when your brain recognises, for whatever reason, that you are in a threatening situation that requires you to act. Through a chain of processes and reactions in the body, the acute stress response prepares your body to either fight or flee from the threat that has been presented.

When the danger is recognised by your eyes or ears, they send the appropriate information to the amygdala in your brain. If danger is sensed, the amygdala sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus section of the brain.

From there, the hypothalamus acts as the control centre for your entire body, communicating and coordinating the appropriate response for the situation. Through the nervous system, the hypothalamus can send signals to the adrenal glands that then react by pumping a hormone (epinephrine, also known as adrenalin) into the bloodstream.

The sudden injection of this hormone leads to a number of the physical changes that are associated with stress, such as a faster heartbeat, pulse rate and blood pressure.

While the fight or flight response can be a lifesaver, activating it too often can take a serious toll on your body. Constantly putting your body on the alert can lead to a buildup of stress-related tension, which can in turn result in a variety of physical symptoms.

Typically, chronic stress can lead to chest or stomach pain, headaches and difficulty sleeping. A constant influx of epinephrine into the bloodstream can also damage your arteries and blood vessels, which increases your blood pressure and heightens your risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.

Cognitive, physical, emotional and behavioural stress

The symptoms of chronic stress fall into four main categories – cognitive, physical, emotional and behavioural.

Along with the symptoms mentioned above, physical reactions can also include nausea, fatigue, exhaustion, insomnia, appetite changes and digestive problems.

Cognitive reactions have to do with your mental behaviour and can involve a lack of concentration, amnesia, disturbed thinking, difficulty with decisions and poor abstract thinking.

The emotional reactions you may experience run the gamut from fear and guilt to anger, irritability and frustration. You may also feel helpless, depressed or emotionally numb.

Stress can also lead to a range of behavioural reactions, such as withdrawal, heightened suspiciousness and alertness, emotional outbursts and a change in communication patterns.

While these reactions may sound serious, it’s important to remember that many of them are common and normal responses, especially in the modern environment that we find ourselves in today.

The pressure to work hard, achieve financial success and maintain interpersonal relationships can all lead to symptoms of stress. A medical professional will diagnose stress by first ruling out any other physical or mental illnesses that may be causing you to feel this way, and then discussing your history and any sources of stress that could be present in your life.

Anyone can be affected by chronic stress, but people who have developed effective strategies for coping with stressful situations are less likely to experience its symptoms.

Managing stress

Coping with chronic stress may require more effective methods of stress management than simple relaxation techniques can provide.

Adaptogens are a group of herbal ingredients that can help your body manage its hormonal response to stress by boosting the health of your adrenal system. Adaptogens are so named because of the way they can ‘adapt’ to your body’s needs, calming you down or boosting your energy to help you deal with stress and fatigue.

Traditional herbal plants such as Ashwagandha have long been used for their healing effects in Ayurvedic medicine, helping to increase vitality, energy and boost the immune system.

Ashwagandha is now recognised for its benefits as an adaptogen to help rejuvenate the body’s nervous system. Along with other natural herbs such as Siberian Ginseng and Rhodiola, it can help support your body’s adrenal glands and better manage the stress response.

Check out the Mood, Stress & Sleep catalogue for a range of leading brand stress supplements available for secure order from our online shop.

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