Symptoms and warning signs to look out for stress, tips to deal with the mental health issue
There are numerous outward signs of stress and worry. Keep an eye out for signs of stress such as the ones listed inside, to avoid mental health issues and check out these tips by doctors to prevent stress or deal with it
‘Stress,’ the word as we use it today, was coined by Dr Hans Selye, a Canadian physician who was nominated for a Nobel Prize for his work. Needless to say, stress is an important factor in our daily life but while acute stress, once in a while, is desirable, chronic stress is not.
The Stress Reaction or the Fight or Flight response was designed by nature to protect us from predators when mankind first walked the face of the earth. Over time, we have lost control of this system and have forgotten the switch-off button, leading to a state of chronic stress, which is no more triggered by the sight of a sabretooth tiger but by movements in the stock market, traffic jams, increments, promotions and thoughts about ageing.
This has resulted in deleterious effects in our bodies, as a result of being marinated for days and months together, with stress hormones – epinephrine and cortisol.
Stress symptoms and warning signs:
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Samir Dwivedi, Medical Director at India – International SOS, shared, “Stress reaction has been implicated in many pathologies, right from backaches, loss of memory, heart attacks, gastric ulcers, panic attacks and reproductive issues. Stress affects almost every part of our body. Hence, the importance of distressing ourselves in our daily lives. It is not the stressor but how we react to stress, which is the problem.”
Dr Vasant Mundra, Consultant Psychiatrist at PD Hinduja Hospital and MRC in Mumbai, highlighted, “Stress is a technical word for doctors. We don't refer to exams as a stress. Technically, stress is the body's response to a noxious stimulus. Meaning the response physiologically and psychologically that we produce to an event will be labeled as stress depending on whether we see the event as a threat, or we don't see the event. So, in actual fact, it is not events but the perception of that person which decides whether it is a stress or not.”
He added, “Just imagine two employees who are sitting in the office and the boss comes and gives both of them a firing and he makes remarks about their ability to work, their timing, their behavior, etc. and goes. One feels insulted, demeaned, hurt, feels helpless, feels like resigning, feels angry but the other one feels that the boss seems to have some problem today. His wife must have shouted at him and he's shouting at us. So the perception of the event decides what my response will be. Those of us who respond to any event as a threat, we produce the threat response to the autonomic nervous system. That is, our brain automatically gives signals whether it is to produce more acid or to make the heartbeat fast or the breathing will start heavily as well as for our hands and legs to be tight, ready for action fight or flight phenomenon."
Dr Vasant Mundra revealed, “Chronically, persistently when this happens, it leads to what are called stress induced disorders for example, hypertension or diabetes or simple day to day things like hyperacidity. Acutely when it happens, for the event immediately one can produce physiological changes, like palpitation, breathlessness, tremor, giddiness, feeling as if one is choking, one is dying, and what we call losing panic attacks. Therefore, stress itself is very much to be understood physiologically as the body's response to a threatening stimulus and the threatening stimulus depends on whether the person perceives something as a threat. Looking around as we see, so many students before the exams get upset, frightened and anxious and they're still a small bunch in the class who don't even know which day the exam is. Our perceptions are based on our personality, the upbringing that we have received, our genetics. Often, anxiety runs in families where more families who have perceiving threat for trivial events will find that the children too look upon events as a threat. For doctors, it's extremely important to be able to see this because chronically, it is very, very important to be able to prevent what is called Lifestyle Disorders.”
Bringing his expertise to the same, Dr Anant Pandhare, Medical Director at Dr. Hedgewar Hospital in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, said, “Stress, which is a feeling of being overwhelmed by mental or emotional pressure, is a very common issue. It can however have mental and physical consequences. There are numerous outward signs of stress and worry. Keep an eye out for signs of stress such as irritability, mood swings, changes in bowel movements, disturbed sleep patterns, changes in nutrition (eating too little or too much), or even developing a sudden taste for certain foods, if you have been under unusually high amounts of it recently.”
He asserted, “Stress can manifest itself physically as a variety of symptoms, including but not limited to headaches, acne, aches and pains, changes in blood pressure, digestive problems, and profuse perspiration. Remember that daily stress is often what inspires us to enhance our careers and relationships. However, long-term exposure to high levels of stress has been linked to a variety of dangerous illnesses. Prolonged stress can cause a wide variety of symptoms, including decreased energy, insomnia, libido changes, and depression. Acne, headaches, rapid heartbeat, sweating, hunger changes, digestive troubles, chronic discomfort, and frequent infections or episodes of sickness are physical indicators of chronic stress.”
Adding to the list of stress symptoms and warning signs, Dr Siddhant Bhargava, Fitness and Nutritional Scientist and Co-Founder of Food Darzee, said, “Every individual undergoes stress moments. In fact, our body is designed to experience stress and react to it. When we experience stressors, our body produces physical and mental responses, which is what stress really is. On the contrary, stress can also be positive. It can keep us alert and motivated to avoid possible danger. Tough when an individual has long-term chronic stress a continued activation of the stress response causes wear and tear on the body and affects its physical, emotional and behavioural well-being.”
He added, “The physical symptoms of stress may include aches and pains, exhaustion or trouble sleeping, high blood pressure, weak immune system, etc. While stress-related emotional and mental symptoms could be anxiety, depression, panic attacks, etc., its effects can also lead to unhealthy behaviours like excessive alcohol consumption, overeating, feeling overwhelmed, eating disorders, etc. Moreover, if the stress continues unabated it can take a serious toll on the body and put you at risk for several health problems, including chronic heart disease.”
Tips to deal with stress:
According to Dr Samir Dwivedi, there are many strategies which one could adopt to manage or deal with stress in daily life. He suggested, “Exercise and deep breathing are one of the most important ones. Many others, like mindfulness and medication; and also guided imagery work wonders for others. Simple things like listening to music, massage and ventilating feeling, or even just writing down problems on a piece of paper and looking at it, works very well for many. Knowing what is important, and having the will to make lifestyle changes, is something that is imperative as stress harms our bodies in more ways than we think of.”
In these difficult times, it is vital that corporates should address the issue of mental health head-on, developing a sophisticated mental wellness strategy to fulfil duty of care responsibilities and help employees with their mental health resilience. Dr Samir Dwivedi said, “Beyond the obvious positives implementing these strategies would have for employees, businesses have a direct interest in investing in creating a mental wellness program. 1 in 3 risk professionals believe that mental health issues will contribute significantly to declining productivity levels this year. A business that supports employees appropriately will therefore likely be in a better, more productive place than one that does not.”
Dr Anant Pandhare suggested, “The first step in handling stress is recognising and accepting it. Consult a therapist or psychologist to analyse your stress symptoms. Physical activity, talk therapy and meditation reduce daily stress. When you need help, ask.”