Stress is something that we’ve all experienced. In fact, almost 80% of Canadians say they’ve felt regular stress in their lives, and well over half of people’s doctor-visits are stress related.
In this article, Vancouver physician Ali Ghahary talks about the different causes of stress, how it manifests, the physical and mental impact that it can have on your body, and how you can better manage it.
Stress is your body’s way of responding to a situation, good or bad, by releasing hormones and chemicals into the blood. In certain cases these hormones and chemicals can be helpful as they give you more energy and strength to react appropriately – however, it can be bad if your stress is the result of a serious threat or physical danger, resulting in heightened emotions and no positive outlet. A person can either react to an imminent threat, which is known as the “fight or flight” response, or have more ongoing, chronic stress in their lives, which is much more dangerous and can lead to a multitude of health problems.
There are various types of stress. They include:
Survival: As mentioned previously, this is the “fight or flight” response to an immediate situation.
Internal: Where you worry for no reason at all or stress over situations that you have no control over.
Environmental: Caused by being in very large crowds of people, noise, or pressure to perform well at school and/or work.
Fatigue/Overwork: This is something that builds up over time and can be the result of working too hard or too much, not taking time to yourself to rest and relax, and not knowing how to manage your time.
When a person is stressed they may feel overwhelmed, hopeless, have trouble concentrating, lack the ability to make decisions, and feel like they don’t have any confidence. A person who is stressed may also have excessive worries or fears, feel angry and frustrated, be impatient with themselves or with others, be irritable, feel nervous, overreact to petty situations, become defensive, and have trouble sleeping. Stress can also manifest into physical symptoms such as sweating, a racing heartbeat, headaches/migraines, and tense muscles. People who experience chronic stress are also more likely to become sick (such as the common cold or flu), and stress can also manifest itself in other ways with conditions such as psoriasis, asthma, diabetes, heart problems, gastrointestinal problems, and accelerated aging. Stress can also lead to mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, which is why it’s so important to get a handle on it early on.
When people are stressed they will often turn to comfort foods such as ice cream, pizza and chocolate. However, these kinds of foods have no nutritional value. Instead, eat a diet that is antioxidant-rich with foods like fruits, vegetables and green tea. These are great for boosting the immune system with important nutrients and, believe it or not, can actually help to decrease your stress level.
Dr. Ali Ghahary also recommends getting physical exercise on a daily basis. Remember, exercise does not have to be strenuous! Something as simple as walking, yoga or meditation can help the brain better cope with stress, and exercise also has other great health benefits as well.
Lastly, it is important to have a good support system around you. If you going through a difficult situation and feeling stressed, talking to someone you trust such as friends or family can be helpful. Physicians like Dr. Ali Ghahary are also people who you can trust and speak to, and they can help point you in the right direction and offer other different coping mechanisms, as well as make referrals to counsellors or support groups in your area.