What is stress?
Stress is an umbrella term. It can refer to the biological response to being exposed to a stressor in the environment, such as traffic. However, it can also refer to psychological distress, which may be short-lived, but it also features in long-term mental health conditions such as general anxiety disorder, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The term ‘managing stress’ presumes that stress is inherently negative. Conversely, evolutionary theory proposes that stress is adaptive. Stress prepares our body for ‘fight or flight’ in response to historical threats, such as predators. In modern life, it might give us a burst of adrenaline that keeps us alert through a job interview. Stress can be helpful when it is moderate and short-lived!
Stress becomes problematic when there is prolonged exposure to it (for example, working overtime to meet tight deadlines being the norm rather than an exception). This is known as ‘chronic stress’ which is associated with changes in the body: elevated blood pressure, raised inflammatory markers and increased levels of cortisol. These biological changes mean that chronic stress is equivalent to obesity as a risk-factor for cardiovascular disease. The good news is this risk factor is modifiable – meaning we can reduce it! In our weight management programs, we also examine how it hinders our efforts to make healthy life-style changes and affects sleep.
How can we tell if chronic stress has become problematic?
Many people are self-aware – so check-in with yourself! If you were to ask yourself ‘how stressed do I feel this week on a scale from 0-7?’ and you score 5 or more on a regular basis you may want to think about what you can do to get that number down!
Alternatively, we can do a ‘body-scan’, where we focus in on our body from the tips of our toes to the tops of our head to see if we have any area locked into tension. Common things to look out for are tightness in the stomach, hunched shoulders, and stiff necks. Tension, including frequent headaches, can indicate that we are experiencing chronic stress.
What about stressful events that trigger things like a heart attack – that doesn’t seem chronic?!
Yes, correct! Researchers believe that people who are over the age of 40 and have accumulated a lot of arterial plaque which narrows their arteries, known as atherosclerosis, are vulnerable to cardiovascular events. Most people will be fine receiving some news that makes them angry, upset, or very stressed. However, for high-risk individuals there’s an increased risk of cardiovascular events after something acutely stressful – this could even be attending a football match. You may think: how is attending a football game stressful? People can feel angry at their team losing, or a referee’s decision. This can act as a trigger and anger is even more high-risk in combination with drinking alcohol and/or being dehydrated. The best way to prevent arterial plaque build-up is by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, and being a non-smoker.
Our programmes place a lot of emphasis on empowering our clients as individuals. Here at One You, our health coaches can support you in finding ways to add more relaxation to your life! They can also help you get fitter and keep your heart healthy. Sign-up today using this link https://bit.ly/OneYou-WM-RBKC.
Find out how to deal with stress in our next blog!
Written by Danielle Taffel (Specialist Mental Health Weight Management Practitioner)