Stress is a natural part of life but unhealthy forms of stress might be a threat to our physical and mental well-being. Three different situations could trigger the stress response in our ancestors. The first one was needed to fight to defend against a threat to one or one’s family. The second one happened where fighting would be unlikely to be successful so one would flee to ensure survival. The third one was where life was in danger of a longer period of time and the stress system needed to remain constantly active. The stress system has changed little from the early period of human evolution. The challenges presented to us today are less clear-cut, making it difficult for the body to react with an appropriate stress response, resulting in a prolonged activation of our stress system. The stress response was only intended as a short-term state of alertness but the stress that people experience today is long lasting. The stress which we experience today is the way that we cope with it. Our ancestors were generally fit and this helped “burn off” symptoms of stress. Today often our response to stress can be over-eat, drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes, all of which are detrimental to our physical and mental well being.
2. “Toxic stress”:
Toxic stress is associated with physical problems and illnesses which include heart attacks and strokes and serious mental health issues which includes depression and suicide.
There are three warning signs for toxic stress:
–Physical symptoms: Problems sleeping, tension headaches, abdominal symptoms, sweating, shortness of breath, muscle tension and pain, bouts of viral and bacterial illnesses, loss of libido, obesity or weigh loss and restlessness.
–Psychological symptoms: Chronic fatigue or exhaustion, often mistaken for physical fatigue, frustration, anger and intolerance, anxiety, feelings of hopeless, worthlessness and helplessness, fixed ways of thinking that can create problems at home and at work, poor decision making, addiction and impaired short-term memory.
–Unhealthy behaviours: Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, inactivity, not eating properly, use of stimulants such as caffeine and energy drinks to combat fatigue, using drugs or becoming addicted to prescription medication, staying up late at night, spending too much time on inappropriate internet sites-many of which may not be helpful and constant negative rumination on the problems facing us.
3. A Holistic Approach:
Lifestyle plays a major role in the treatment and prevention of chronic stress. Exercise has a very important part to play in the prevention of chronic stress. Diet is also important, as the brain is dependant on proper nutrition to function. Alternative therapies such as relaxation exercises, yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, massage, reflexology, talk therapy, pilates, mindfulness are of proven benefit in treating toxic stress.