I wonder, is stress the modern plague? Everybody experiences stress and acute (short term) stress can be beneficial when we face a challenge or threat, igniting our innate ‘fight or flight’ response. But is it me, or are more people experiencing chronic stress?
With busy lives and constant pressure, we can get used to feeling constantly tired/anxious/overwhelmed and those feelings become the ‘norm’.
Before I share my personal experience of stress, let’s get a better understanding of what it actually is.
Stress is not black and white; generally speaking it’s a response to being under too much mental or emotional pressure. Jobs, family, relationships, social media, finances, illness, trauma, grief etc all effect stress levels.
Acute (short term) stress is perfectly normal and actually helpful. Imagine being mugged, if you had no stress or ‘fight or flight’ response you would just stand there and be mugged instead of running or punching the bugger in the face. When the imminent threat passes, the stress subsides.
It’s when stress becomes prolonged, referred to as ‘chronic’, that health is seriously affected.
Chronic stress should not be ignored; it affects almost every system in your body:
- Musculoskeletal: causes muscle tension leading to migraines, neck, shoulder & back pain
- Immune: decreases efficiency of immune system leaving you vulnerable to disease
- Gastrointestinal: decreases efficiency of digestive system leading to poor nutrient absorption, constipation/diarrhoea
- Reproductive: decreases testosterone/sperm production in men and affects menstruation in women
- Cardiovascular: increases heart rate, blood pressure and risk of heart attack/stroke
- Nervous: body is constantly on guard for ‘fight or flight’ response which depletes energy resources, leaving you fatigued
- Speeds up the ageing process (I’m looking at you grey hair!)
Stress can affect you physically, mentally and emotionally:
- Chest pains (something I experienced during my GCSE’s & A levels)
- Trouble sleeping
- Feeling sick/dizzy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mood swings
- Feeling tearful
- Over/Under eating
So what can you do???
- Talking therapy: online, over the phone or in person
- Mindfulness: meditation
- Medication: sleeping pills, antidepressants (I would advice using medication as a last resort)
- Herbal remedies such as St John’s Wort, Lavender, camomile, valerian, passionflower
- Alternative therapies: acupuncture, massage, Chinese medicine
- Ecotherapy: spending time in nature
I have always had an obsessive compulsive personality, from turning plugs socket off to following the exact same routine every night. My mum has always said I would be addicted to drugs, alcohol or sex. Thankfully my only ‘addiction’ is health and fitness, although that may be due to my current lack of a love life.
Let’s venture back in time to 2007 when the first signs of stress emerged. I had started secondary school, discovered that there are some very mean people in the world and began panicking about every minor test.
Around this time my hormones kicked in, my mood was all over the place and I had a breakdown every morning before school. Honestly how my mum got me into school every day is beyond me.
Things remained pretty much the same until 2011. GCSE year. Exam stress lead to my hair and eyebrows falling out more than usual, headaches, stomach aches, poor eating habits, mood swings and even more breakdowns. I must have been a joy to live with.
Fast forward to A levels and my panic over exams was causing me severe chest pains. As in so bad that on one occasion I thought I was having a heart attack. I clutched my chest, unable to breath or move and my parents took me to A&E.
Back in our time machine and to the present day where I find myself dealing with the affects of long term stress.
I thought I was coping ok; sweating out the stress, practicing yoga, trying to give zero f***s whilst prancing to dance anthems, but my body is telling me otherwise.
My hair has gone grey (bloody grey, at 22!!!!) and is falling out a lot, I experience frequent dizzy spells, my periods are irregular (sorry if that’s TMI), my teeth have weakened, I have night sweats, insomnia and more down days than up.
Last week I saw my GP; after I bored her to death with my depressing life story, we came up with a plan of action:
- drain me of blood to detect deficiencies or thyroid issues
- hormone testing
- have me put down.
I may have made the latter up, but I’m desperate to halt whatever is playing havoc with my body and mind.
Update: after getting my results yesterday, I can confirm I am healthy except for slightly low calcium and iron levels.
Despite phase 2 of the plan (hormone testing), the Dr just wanted to subscribe antidepressants. Something I am reluctant to take; I don’t want to mask the symptoms, I want to find the root cause and heal myself before I end up wrinkled, toothless and crippled at 23.
Operation be happy is now underway. I am considering seeing a therapist to talk things through, I shall try some herbal therapies and I will get my sad life in order.
Let me know if you are experiencing something similar. I am sending you all positive vibes x