Although stress is a normal and necessary physiological response to stimuli, for too many Australians constantly functioning in high-stress mode has become an unfortunate way of life. This type of high-stressed living is not without consequences, be they physical, psychological or social.
Someone living a constantly keyed-up lifestyle doesn’t always look high-strung. Although an agitated stress response – someone who is overly emotional, moody and unable to sit still – is common, a withdrawn or depressed stress response can be equally as damaging. Someone responding to stress in this way will appear unenergetic, burnt out and with little emotion. A combination of both is even possible – this will be someone who appears outwardly ‘frozen’ but who is extremely agitated below the surface.
A chronic stress response can have a range of impacts on your lifestyle, and one of the dangers of stress is that it can make your system resigned to feeling stressed. It can sneak up without your noticing it, and before you know it you think that being constantly agitated is normal. Chronic stress can lead to changes in appetite, disturbed sleeping patterns, anxiety, memory problems, depression and social withdrawal.
The stress response triggers the release of hormones cortisol and adrenalin, giving you the energy and concentration to function in response to stimuli. However, chronic stress means that the usual ebb and flow of cortisol in your body flattens out, so you can neither relax as effectively nor achieve an effective reaction to real stressors.
All of this together spells disaster for your immune system. Your immune cells respond to cortisol, and when cortisol is being constantly stimulated your immune cells stop responding, leaving you far more at risk of infections and illnesses. Chronic stress has also been associated with higher risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and upper respiratory infections, among others.
Prevention and management
Luckily, stress is something that can be managed and alleviated. Regular exercise, for example, can not only help to relieve stress, but is also beneficial in preventing many of the chronic diseases associated with a high-stress lifestyle. Most people find relaxation, meditation or yoga as helpful for combatting stress, and it’s also important that you get enough sleep and enjoy a healthy, balanced diet. Things to avoid include tobacco and excessive caffeine and alcohol.
Learning how to take care of yourself and to control your reactions are key to both preventing and managing stress in your life. You can’t always control your circumstances, but what you can control is how you react to them. This can be one of the more challenging aspects to managing stress, as it requires you to reassess potentially damaging thought patterns you may already be in. Nonetheless, these are all key steps to overcoming harmful stress in your everyday life.