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Stress: Why too much of a good thing is NOT beneficial to your health

This is the conundrum. Stress is something you literally cannot live with or without.

As part of the human repertoire of responses, stress has its origins in ancient times when, as a ‘flight or fright’ mechanism in short-term emergencies, it was a literal lifesaver.

In the 21st Century, however, it is a killer, particularly if not harnessed, managed and suitably contained.

Stress generally refers to two things: the psychological perception of pressure and the body's response to it. Involving what some have called the 3 Ms of stress manifestation—from metabolism to muscles to memory.

The encounter with danger, threat or major challenges automatically sets off a physiological response that produces a rich mixture of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol, and other responses designed to take care, of the immediate situation at hand.

The ‘powering down’ of the body post stress requires a need for rest and even recalibration. The downside of stress comes from NOT having the ability to ‘switch off’ to the traumatic situation. Prolonged or repeated arousal of the stress response, a characteristic of modern life, can have harmful physical and psychological effects, including heart disease and depression.

Practical steps are the best medicine

Studies have put forward the proposition that over 95% of illnesses have a stress component or relationship. Fortunately, there are practical steps that can help to alleviate the problem.

Health Navigator New Zealand says knowing how to manage stress, set limits, problem solve, and take time out are necessary for everybody.

Their top tips include learning how to recognise stress and ways to then cope with it.

  1. Engage in techniques to help you relax.
  2. Learn skills you can use every day such as effective problem solving, healthy communication and healthy thinking.
  3. Develop a healthy work-life balance by staying physically active, eating a balanced diet, establishing good sleeping patterns, and making time for pleasurable activities and people who are important to you.
  4. Spend time with people who can support you when you are feeling stressed.
For caregivers, family or friends looking for possible signs of stress, the US-based care provider ‘Comfort Keepers’ list what they experience as the most common ways to detect stress.
  1. Changes in eating habits such as over-eating or loss of appetite.
  2. Mood swings including increased irritability, general sadness or depression.
  3. Increased forgetfulness, lack of concentration or poor judgement.
  4. General malaise including body aches or increased episodes of illness. Radical changes in sleeping patterns can signal significant stress.
  5. Removal from ‘the world’ by refusing to socialise or take part in activities they used to enjoy.

The above can be indicators of other issues and not necessarily caused by stress. If there is any concern, take action and seek additional information or help. Your GP is a great place to start.