Stress, anxiety

 

Description of stress

Stress is a normal physical response to events that make you feel threatened. When you sense danger, your body's defenses kick into a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight-or-freeze” reaction, or the stress response.

This stress response causes a surge of hormones and is the body’s way of protecting you. Once released, these stress hormones help you stay focused, energetic, and alert. Your pulse quickens, you breathe faster, your muscles tense, your brain uses more oxygen and increases activity—all functions aimed at survival. In emergency situations, stress can even save your life—giving you extra strength to defend yourself, or urging you to press on the brakes to avoid an accident. Once the pressure or threat has passed, your stress hormone levels will usually return to normal.

Acute stress

It is the most common form of stress. Generally lasting less than an hour, it is thrilling and exciting in small doses. But too much can be harmful. For example, skiing down a challenging slope is exhilarating early in the day but it will have become exhausting by the end of the day.

Acute stress can arise in anyone's life and its symptoms are easily recognized because they are the direct consequences of what went wrong in our lives, like for example a car accident, a loss of an important contract, or our child's occasional problems at school….Acute stress is highly treatable and manageable by simply relaxing and letting it go. And because it is short term, it doesn't have enough time to do extensive damages to your health.

Episodic acute stress

The more often we suffer from acute stress, the more overactive our fight or flight response becomes, and we constantly perceive potential threats everywhere. That is why people who are over stressed seem always and overly anxious, jumpy, irritable or aggressive. They describe themselves as having "a lot of nervous energy." They are always in a hurry and tend to be abrupt, so that interpersonal relationships can deteriorate rapidly when others respond with real hostility.

Another form of episodic acute stress comes from continuous worry. In that case, the individuals see disaster everywhere and forecast catastrophe in every situation, considering the world as a dangerous place where something awful is always about to happen. The symptoms of episodic acute stress include persistent tension headaches, hypertension, chest pain and heart disease.

Often, this state of mind is so anchored and seems so habitual that these people never question their lifestyle and ways of interacting with others, blaming others and external events for what goes wrong in their lives. That is why they can be resistant to change.

Chronic stress

If you are constantly under stress, the stress hormones will remain in your body and beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful. Long-term exposure to stress can actually lead to serious health problems because chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body : your blood pressure is raised, your immunity is lowered, your risks of heart attack and stroke are increased, and your excretory, and reproductive systems stop working normally.

 

Symptoms of stress

Stress can manifest in a variety of emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms, which vary among individuals.

Common physical symptoms include:

• Sleep disturbances or changes in sleeping habits

• Sweating

• Muscle tension or aches

• Headache

• Gastrointestinal and digestive problems

• Fatigue or dizziness

• Difficulty concentrating

• Racing thoughts or being constantly worried

Emotional and behavioral symptoms include:

• Nervousness or anxiety

• Changes in eating habits including overeating or undereating

• Loss of enthusiasm or energy

• Mood changes, like irritability and depression.

Causes of stress

Stress is related to both external and internal factors.

- External factors: Things happening in your life can trigger feeling of stress and include :

• Being under lots of pressure

• Facing big changes

• Worrying about something or someone

• Not having control over the outcome of a situation

• Having overwhelming responsibilities

• …and all the difficulties and expectations you are confronted with on a daily basis

- Internal factors that influence your ability to handle stress include :

• Your perception of the situation, which might be connected to your past experiences, your self-esteem, and how our thought processes work.

• How skilled you are at dealing with pressure

• Your emotional resilience to stressful situations

• Your overall health and fitness levels

• Your amount of sleep and rest you get

 

Complications of stress

People under stress have a tendency to engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as excessive use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes, a lack of exercise or bad eating choices. These unhealthy behaviors can further increase the severity of stress-related symptoms, which often leads to a "vicious cycle" of symptoms and unhealthy behaviors.

 

Treatment and prevention of stress

There is little you can do to prevent stress, but there are many things you can do to manage stress more effectively, such as:

o Exercise regularly. Exercise is one of the best ways to manage stress as it increases the secretion of endorphins, hormones inducing feelings of peacefulness.

o Let your feelings out by talking, laughing, and crying when you need to. Talk to a friend, family member or therapist if your stress level is too high.

o Do something you enjoy, as a hobby can help you relax.

o Find time for inner strength and emotional healing, to nurture yourself, away from your responsibilities.

o Avoid situations that make you feel stressed such as unnecessary arguments and conflict and be assertive instead of aggressive.

o Learn ways to relax your body. This can include breathing exercises, muscle relaxation exercises, massage, aromatherapy, yoga, or relaxing exercises like tai chi and qi gong.

o Eat well, as a nutritious diet is important with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and no sweet and fatty foods.

o Sleep. A good sleep routine is essential as your body needs time to recover from stressful events.

o Focus on the present. Try meditation, imagery exercises, or self-hypnosis.

o Learn to manage your time more effectively and set limits. Never hesitate to say “no” before you take on too many commitments.

o Listen to relaxing music.

o Keep a positive attitude and try to look for the humor in life, as laughter really can be the best medicine.

o Don't rely on alcohol, drugs or compulsive behaviours to reduce stress.

o Identify the sources of stress. Once you have figured out what is causing your stress, try to minimise these triggers as much as possible.

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Description of anxiety

For some people, it can be hard to control their worries and their feelings of anxiety are more constant, often affecting their daily life.

People with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Often, these disorders involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks). These feelings of anxiety and panic, which can last a long time, are difficult to control and out of proportion to the actual danger.

There is a distinction between a brief anxiety caused by a specific event (such as speaking in public or a first date) and severe anxiety lasting at least six months. This severe anxiety is generally considered to be problem that needs evaluation and treatment.

 

Symptoms of anxiety

Anxiety is the main symptom of several conditions, including panic disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety disorder (social phobia).

Each anxiety disorder has different symptoms, but all the symptoms are associated with excessive, irrational fear and dread, and include:

• Feeling nervous

• Feeling powerless

• Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom

• Having an increased heart rate

• Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)

• Sweating

• Trembling

• Feeling weak or tired

• Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry

 

Causes of anxiety

Anxiety may be caused by external factors, a mental or physical condition, the effects of drugs, or a combination of these.

External factors which can cause anxiety include:

• Any kind of stress: Stress at work, school, in a personal relationship, from an emotional trauma, financial stress, stress from a serious medical illness…

• Side effect of medication

• Use of an illicit drug

Medical conditions which can cause anxiety include:

• Heart disease

• Diabetes

• Thyroid problems, such as hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism

• Asthma

• Withdrawal from alcohol, anti-anxiety medications (benzodiazepines) or other medications

• Irritable bowel syndrome

• Premenstrual syndrome

 

Long-term effects of anxiety

Having an anxiety disorder can also lead to, or worsen, other mental and physical health conditions, such as:

• Depression (which often occurs with anxiety disorder)

• Substance abuse

• Trouble sleeping (insomnia)

• Digestive or bowel problems

• Headaches

• Suicide

You might also have difficulty with everyday aspects of your of life, such as:

• Holding down a job

• Developing or maintaining relationships

• Simply enjoying your leisure time

 

Treatment & Prevention of anxiety

You can take steps to reduce the impact of symptoms if you are anxious:

• Get help early. Anxiety can be harder to treat if you wait.

• Keep a journal, as it can help you and your mental health provider identify what is causing your stress and what is helping you feel better.

• Stay active. Avoiding activities because you are nervous can make anxiety worse.

• Learn time management techniques. Learning how to carefully manage your time and energy can help you reduce your anxiety.

• Avoid unhealthy alcohol or drug use. Alcohol and drug use can cause or worsen anxiety, but if you are addicted to any of these substances, quitting can make you anxious. See your doctor or find a support group to help you.

Psychotherapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective forms of psychotherapy for anxiety disorders. It focuses on teaching you specific skills to gradually return to the activities you have avoided because of anxiety. Through this process, your symptoms improve as you build upon your initial success.

 

Herbs that contribute to stress and anxiety management

Jiaogulan

Due to its adaptogenic functions, Jiaogulan boosts up or calms the system depending on our body’s need, helping us to cope with stress.

Jiaogulan also aids the regulation of hormonal functions. It has a calmative effect on the nervous system, which helps to stop the overproduction of adrenaline.

By increasing the production of lymphocytes, phagocytes and serum IgG, Jiaogulan has also shown its effectiveness in helping the body resist depression of the immune system and other stress-related symptoms, thus increasing the body’s resistance to stress, trauma, anxiety, and fatigue.

An animal-based study published in 2013 indicates that jiaogulan may help protect against stress-related anxiety disorders. Jiaogulan helped inhibit stress-induced anxiety, possibly by influencing activity in certain brain cells involved in regulating mood.

Noni

Noni contains a natural component which has the ability to activate serotonin receptors in the brain as well as throughout the body. Due to this propriety, Noni can help those suffering from mood or anxiety conditions.

Noni regulates systems associated with nervousness and irritability and reduces negative moods, resulting in improved productivity, enhanced creativity, and emotional and physiological well-being.