BY LISA MOORE, TRANSITIONS COUNSELLING & MEDIATION CENTRE
Feeling stressed can feel perfectly normal, especially during the holidays. You might notice that sometimes being stressed-out motivates you to focus on your work, yet at other times, you feel incredibly overwhelmed and can’t concentrate on anything. While stress affects everyone in different ways there are two major types of stress: stress that’s beneficial and motivating – good stress – and stress that causes anxiety and even health problems – bad stress. Here’s more on the benefits and side effects of stress and how to tell if you’re experiencing too much stress.
BENEFIT OF STRESS
According to experts, stress is a burst of energy that basically advises you on what to do. In small doses, stress has many advantages. For instance, stress can help you meet daily challenges and motivates you to reach your goals. In fact, stress can help you accomplish tasks more efficiently. It can even boost memory. Stress is also a vital warning system, producing the fight-or-flight response. When the brain perceives some kind of stress, it starts flooding the body with chemicals like epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol. This creates a variety of reactions such as an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. Plus the senses suddenly have a laser-like focus so you can avoid physically stressful situations – such as jumping away from a moving car – and be safe.
In addition, there are various health benefits with a little bit of stress. Researchers believe that some stress can help to fortify the immune system. For instance, stress can improve how your heart works and protect your body from infection. In one study, individuals who experienced moderate levels of stress before surgery were able to recover faster than individuals who had low or high levels.
SIDE EFFECTS OF STRESS
Stress is key for survival, but too much stress can be detrimental. Emotional stress that stays around for weeks or months can weaken the immune system and cause high blood pressure, fatigue, depression, anxiety and even heart disease. In particular, too much epinephrine can be harmful to your heart. It can change the arteries and how their cells are able to regenerate.
SIGNALS OF TOO MUCH STRESS
It may be tough to tell when you’re experiencing good or bad stress, but there are important ways that your body lets you know that you’re struggling with too much stress. Watch out for the following warning signs.
• Inability to concentrate or complete tasks
• Get sick more often with colds
• Body aches
While it’s impossible to eliminate all negative stress from your life, you can control the way you react to stress. Your body’s natural fight-or-flight response can take its toll. When you’re faced with a stressful situation that your mind perceives as a threat, it send various chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol, throughout your body. As a result, heart rate and breathing speeds up and your digestion slows down. This tires out the body.
Relaxation techniques are a huge help in calming your down, boosting mood and fighting illness. Try a variety of techniques – like yoga, breathing exercises, meditation and visualization – to see what works for you, and schedule a relaxation break every day.
Manage your time well – First focus on one task at a time. Multitasking rarely works. Jot down everything you need to do in a calendar or a task management app/program, prioritize your list and break tasks into single steps or actions.
Other things to note – be realistic, curb your caffeine and don’t self-medicate.
Most of all – Reach out – If you’re stressed out, talk to your friends and family. If you feel like you can’t handle the stress on your own, schedule an appointment with a counselor.