With the silly season upon us it’s supposed to be a festive time that is filled with fun and frivolity. While this may be the case for many people, the festive season can also be a major trigger for stress and anxiety.
There are times when you or a loved one would prefer to want to curl up and hide from the world. There’s the pressure of socialising, shopping, crowds, dealing with people we don’t really want to be around, money pressures and this is amongst the everyday hustle and bustle of life.
In this article, I’d like to provide you with some information about what happens to your body when you’re in a state of stress and anxiety, and also share with you my top tips on how to overcome stress and anxiety when it takes hold.
What are the symptoms of stress and anxiety?
Everyone experiences different effects of stress and anxiety. You may get the jitters, you may not be able to fall asleep with a million thoughts racing through your mind, and you may feel physically ill or have sweaty palms. These feelings can quickly snowball and can become very intense.
It’s important to learn how to manage your stress and anxiety levels because over time, stress will have adverse effects on your health. Some common symptoms of stress and anxiety include:
- Headaches: stress can trigger and intensify tension headaches.
- Rapid breathing: when stressed, we take small shallow breaths rather than deep breaths to move air in and out of the lungs.
- Insomnia: stress makes it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Weaker immune system: long term stress and anxiety can suppress your immune system.
- Heartburn: stress decreases the production of stomach acid leading to heartburn and indigestion.
- Stomach aches: stress can affect your digestive system leading to nausea and other stomach issues.
- High blood pressure: stress hormones tighten blood vessels which raise blood pressure and can increase your risk of having a heart attack.
- High blood sugar: stress causes your liver to release extra sugar (glucose) into your bloodstream putting you at risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Fertility issues: stress interferes with the reproductive system in both men and women and may also affect your periods, sex drive and the ability to get an erection
- Depression: over time, chronic stress can lead to depression and other mental health problems.
What happens to your body when you’re feeling stressed and anxious?
The above symptoms are what you will feel physically, but there’s a lot more going on inside your body. Your body goes into “fight or flight” mode – it’s your body’s way of protecting you. When this occurs your body is releasing stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Your heart will beat faster, your muscles will tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens and your senses become heightened.
It’s important to note that everyone feels some stress and this is quite normal. It’s not always a negative experience and in small doses can help you perform under pressure, motivate you and keep your senses sharp. It’s when your body is in a constant state of stress and anxiety that chronic stress will begin to disrupt every system in your body, and lead to feelings of overwhelm. Also, just the smallest amount of stress can send you into a frenzy.
Learn to recognise the signs and symptoms of chronic stress and anxiety and take steps to reduce their harmful effects on your mind and body.
Here are my 5 top tips to help you deal with and overcome your stress and anxiety…
1. Take a Breath
When you’re beginning to feel stressed or anxious be sure to slow down. Take a moment in a quiet place and focus on your breathing. Take 5-10 deep slow breaths and you will begin to activate your body’s relaxation response. You will immediately be able to feel your muscles and mind relax.
When you are in the comfort of your home try some relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation and deep breathing. When practiced regularly, these activities will reduce your everyday stress and anxiety levels and help you remain calm under pressure.
2. Eat Well
The food we eat has a direct effect on our ability to cope with stress and anxiety. If you have a diet that includes processed foods, refined carbohydrates and sugary snacks your blood sugar levels will be affected and your emotional response will be triggered. Also try to avoid alcohol and caffeine in highly stressful times as these can aggravate your nervous system making stress and anxiety worse.
Instead opt for a diet rich in fresh and seasonal fruit and vegetables, high quality protein, omega-3 fatty acids and drink lots of water to keep your body hydrated. Make changes slowly so that they are more sustainable over time.
3. Get Moving
Regular exercise is a great way to burn off stress and anxiety. When you exercise your body releases endorphins and other brain chemicals that help you cope with your emotions and lift your mood.
Try rhythmic exercises such as walking, running and swimming and focus your attention on the physical sensations as you move. This is also a great way to help you practice mindfulness. The best part is that when you exercise you will feel better and also sleep better.
4. Sleep Well
When we’re stressed we often lie awake for hours or wake in the middle of the night which disrupts our sleep. Lack of sleep can cause you to think irrationally and react more quickly to stress and anxiety. Create an evening routine to relax your mind and body. You could have a bath, play some music, read a book or try a relaxation technique.
Avoid light exposure such as TV, phones and electronic devices before going to bed and remove them from your room so you’re not tempted to use them. Melatonin is a natural hormone released by your body and is controlled by light exposure. It helps regulate your sleep and waking cycle.
5. Connect to Others
Stay connected to those around you. Talk face to face with a loved one, someone you trust, a friend or a work colleague. This simple act will help relieve stress and anxiety. You don’t necessarily have to talk about how you’re feeling, and it may help take your mind off how you are feeling. However if you are comfortable enough, open up and you will realise the other person may be experiencing similar feelings.
When you’re feeling stressed try to spend time with people who make you feel good, who are positive and who are uplifting. Avoid people who emotionally drain you, that bring further stress or pass judgement.
The festive season can be a trigger for stress and anxiety, possibly for you or someone you care about. If you recognise the symptoms of stress or anxiety in someone encourage them to practice the above 5 activities and check in on them so they know that there is someone there for them.
Enjoy the festive season. Be kind to yourself and take some time out for deep breaths when you need to.