17 Signs of Stress & Some Cunning Ways to Combat It
It’s all getting to be too much. You woke up late, the kids forgot their lunch, you’ve got a hundred-and-one things on the to-do list, your boss is breathing down your neck, the ol’ bank account is running lower than you’d like and you have no idea what’s for dinner. You’re on the verge of ripping your hair out!
Stress is essentially an imbalance between the pressure of demand on you and the lack of confidence in your ability to cope with that demand. It’s often associated with work pressures, but all aspects of life can induce a stress reaction. It can come about from singular events, such as a major presentation at work or the death of a loved one, but more often than not it’s a combination of factors from all different aspects of life that build up pressure.
Stress affects everyone very differently as it is inherently linked to personality. The effects of stress can range from emotional responses of anxiety, depression and anger, to cognitive functions like forgetfulness, indecisiveness and a lack of concentration. These can also lead to behavioural changes such as insomnia, weight issues and obsessive-compulsive behaviours.
Stress affects everyone very differently as it is inherently linked to personality. The effects of stress can range from emotional responses to cognitive functions to behavioural changes. So how do you know when it’s more than just a little pressure and your body is under stress? Watch out for these
1. Having trouble concentrating
2. Memory problems – forgetfulness
3. Being in a state of worried disposition
4. Lack of judgement – indecisiveness
6. Struggling to relax
7. A sense of isolation from other peers
8. Muscular aches
9. Rapid heartbeat
10. Lack of appetite
11. Sleeping issues; either struggling to get enough sleep or struggling to wake up
12. Any nervous habits, such as nail-biting or head-scratching
13. Increased use of alcohol/cigarettes/drugs to achieve a state of relaxation
14. Loss of sex drive
15. Unwarranted dizziness
16. Obsessive-compulsive behaviours
17. A negative outlook
It’s far too common and gets to us all from time to time, and the way that we treat our minds and bodies has a real effect on our stress levels. So what can we do?
The magic word; meditation. Even only a few minutes of meditation a day can help calm the body and relieve stress, even if only temporarily. When engaged correctly, it produces a state of deep relaxation and tranquility. Controlled breathing and focussing solely on one thing clears the mind of all other thoughts that get jumbled and trigger the stress reaction. If you’re a meditation newbie, guided meditation is a good place to start with a strong emphasis on visualisation and utilisation of the senses. Mindfulness meditation is also great for stress relief, which focuses on the experience of meditation itself and a passive observation of emotions without engagement.
The Mind and Body
The quintessential combination for combatting stress both mentally and physically is yoga. Yoga incorporates physical poses with controlled breathing and meditation, simultaneously engaging the mind and body. Regular sessions stretch and release muscle tension that builds up as a result of stress, and there are even particular poses designed for stress management, such as the cobra pose, extended puppy pose and the plow pose. These are all relatively simple yoga positions for beginners, starting slow so as not to exert any extra stress that the body isn’t ready for, and part of a style of yoga known as Hatha yoga, which takes each pose one-at-a-time to concentrate only on the positions, rather than flowing between poses.
The foods you choose have more of an effect on stress levels than you realise. It’s almost human nature to reach out for comfort foods loaded with carbs and sugary treats to satisfy cravings, especially when we’re stressing ourselves out, but eating the wrong foods when those stress hormones are raging can do more harm than good. So next time you’re feeling the pressure, reach out for one of these stress-busters instead;
Yogurt; – Yogurt is chock-a-block full of good bacteria – but don’t be scared off by that suspiciously ambiguous ‘B’ word! The probiotics found in yogurt and other fermented foods have a range of health benefits to your body, and they help to combat any bad bacteria that might be living in your gut and sending stressful messages to your brain. One particular probiotic, of the intimidatingly latin name Lactobacillus rhamnosus, has been found to lower corticosterone; a hormone induced by stress. So if you’re starting to feel those tensions rising, grab a spoonful of probiotics from the yogurt tub! Although your regular store-bought yogurt will do, they also often contain artificial colors and flavours that aren’t as great for you, so to get the most out of your probiotics you could even try making your own yogurt fresh. Throw in some blueberries for an extra antioxidant kick!
Green Leaf Vegetables; I know, greens are good for you. Shocker, right? But here’s why green leafies are especially good for when you’re stressed out; they contain high amounts of folate, or folic acid, which help your body to produce the neurotransmitters needed to regulate mood and temperament. The most prominent of these are serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin in particular is regarded as a mood-elevator, needed to pull you out of that deep stressed state. This is probably one of the trickier foods for stress relief, because when we’re stressed we tend to crave carbohydrates and other such traditional ‘comfort foods’. I can’t remember the last time I had a craving for a good ol’ piece of raw spinach. But if you can incorporate greens into your diet and try to hold back on the carb-heavy stuff, the release of serotonin from a leafy meal can help calm your nerves and ease your stress (in addition to all the other good stuff your mother used to tell you about eating your greens). If you’re after something a little more substantial to keep feeling fuller for longer, opt for other green veggies such as steamed asparagus.
Blueberries; – Blueberries have been hailed as one of the world’s greatest superfoods, and while the craze around that phrase ‘superfoods’ might be a bit overdone, in the case of the blueberry it’s appropriate. All berries are rich in vitamin C which helps with stress, but blueberries are special because they contain high levels of the antioxidant anthocyanin. Anthocyanin, as well as pigmenting the blueberries to give them their dark color, also urges the brain to produce more dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that primarily deals with adrenaline and is strongly linked to emotion and mood. Stress can deregulate dopamine, thereby inhibiting your ability to feel happy. Eating plenty of blueberries will encourage your dopamine development and keep those levels from diminishing throughout the stress response. Who knew a little blueberry had so much potential for stress relief! And as well as a great snack, they can also be added to other meals to boost antioxidant intake.
Oatmeal; – This one’s for all those carb-lovers out there who need something substantial to satiate that craving in the morning. Instead of denying yourself and worsening the mood, steer away from the sugary cereals and towards the complex carbohydrates that are going to keep you going without causing a spike in your blood sugar levels… which are probably already too high from stress as it is. Oatmeal is perfect for that. It relieves stress through the production of serotonin and releases slowly throughout the day, keeping your body and mood more regulated than a sudden sugar spike. Instead of adding honey, sweeten it up with some berries for extra stress-relieving antioxidants and dust it off with some cinnamon, which has been shown to soothe frustration.
Turkey Breast; – Seems like a bit of a wildcard, but turkey is known to be a great source of tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that converts to serotonin, but there has also been research into the calming effects of tryptophan on its own (where it’s used as a supplement) that have had promising results. Tryptophan can also be found in nuts, tofu and pumpkin seeds, but turkey is also a lean source of protein and a substantial meal, so it’s perfect for satiating your hunger and relieving your stress at lunch or dinnertime rather than through snacking.
Salmon; – Salmon is a great source of omega-3 fats like EPA and DHA, which you might have taken as a health supplement in the form of fish oil. Some research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids can soothe the inflammation caused by stress/anxiety hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, and studies have been conducted for the use of omega-3 as a natural alternative to antidepressant medication.
Pistachios; – All nuts are great, but especially pistachios! Pistachios have been linked to cardiovascular health, and help reduce stress by lowering vascular constriction; this literally means that there’s less weighing on your heart! And on a more cognitive level, the necessity of shelling the pistachios can be a rhythmic and therapeutic process, simple and repetitive which calms the mind and relieves stress.
And at the end of the day, treat yourself to a cup of green tea and some dark chocolate for extra antioxidants and a whole lot of calm!
So the next time you’re getting overwhelmed, think of these simple stress-reliefs. All easily doable at home or on the go, there’s really no excuse not to give your mind and body a chance to replenish from the pressures of life.