Everyone has an inborn ability to handle stress. However, tolerance is variable. Some people can handle only low levels and short durations of stress while others adapt and can endure higher-level stress for more prolonged periods.
In 1935, Dr. Hans Selye devised the term stress as a factor that induced behavioral changes in mammals. He then furthered this notion to include higher level organisms (like us humans) as being affected by stress in a harmful way.
According to Dr. Selye, there are three states the body faces when dealing with stress. The first is the alarm state early on in the process; followed by the resistance state where the body attempts to adapt to the added stress (release of cortisol); and, finally, after stress overwhelms and weakens the system, the exhaustion state is reached.
These three "states" can be analogously detailed as physiologic mechanisms:
- Alarm state – the adaptation to acute stress, otherwise known as the "fight-or-flight" response.
- Resistance state – the emergence of negative health consequences (signs and symptoms) of prolonged stress response activation.
- Exhaustion state – the decline in responsiveness and sensitivity of the primary hormonal signals of the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis.
Recognizing that you are experiencing some or all of the following signs or symptoms is an important initial step toward achieving better overall health and mitigating your risk for various diseases.
Signs & Symptoms that You're Suffering from Chronic Stress
Here are 16 sure-fire signs or symptoms that stress is getting the best of you. If you are suffering from 5 or more, then taking immediate action to reduce stress is critical.
- Excessive fatigue after minimal exertion.
- Feeling "overwhelmed" by relatively trivial problems.
- Trouble awakening in the morning, even after adequate sleep.
- Relying on coffee and other "energy" drinks for a pick-me-up.
- Perceived energy burst after 6:00 PM.
- Chronic low blood pressure.
- Hypersensitivity to cold temperatures.
- Increased premenstrual symptoms (PMS) symptoms.
- Depression and/or mood swings.
- Mental "fog" and poor memory.
- Decreased sex drive.
- Feeling anxious.
- Craving sugar and salty foods.
- Decreased appetite.
- Chronic allergies.
- Generalized weakness and dizziness upon standing.
Some of these may mimic, or overlap with, dysfunction of the thyroid gland, malnutrition, depression, chronic fatigue states, chronic illness, infections, alcohol and drug abuse, and heavy metal toxicity. Therefore, it is very important to rule out other possible causes before attributing symptoms to chronic stress alone.
Reducing Stress: An Action Plan
There's no one-size-fits-all approach to reducing stress. Recognizing that, we've put together a list of lifestyle changes and supplement suggestions that are well-known to help people "de-stress."
They are in no particular order. The best plan of attack is to just begin with 1 or 2 from the list. After a couple of weeks, evaluate how you're doing. If you need to, add a couple more suggestions from the list.
- Talk about it. Share your feelings and concerns with a partner, family member, friend, work colleague, clergy or mental health professional. When you're feeling stressed, talking can provide a release and a fresh perspective.
- Take up a hobby. Whether it's as simple as planting flowers in a window box or as ambitious as woodworking, a hobby or activity that you truly enjoy can go a long way towards dialing down stress. You know it's important to make time for yourself, so start today.
- Take slow, deep breaths. Breathing exercises can help relieve stress. Inhale slowly through your nose then exhale slowly out your mouth as you say a relaxing word. Pause and then repeat this deep breathing for up to 15 breaths.
- Learn to say, "No." We live in a society where many people feel the need to "do it all." Sure, it's important to do your best, but continually over-promising at work (even if you love your job) or over-committing in your social life (even doing things you enjoy) can cause stress.
- Go to sleep and wake-up on a set schedule. This helps to rebalance the natural rhythms of the body, especially that of cortisol, the stress hormone.
- Exercise more days a week than not. Yoga is wonderful at reducing stress. But really anything will do. Walk, swim, jog, bike — all of these are effective stress reducers.
- Spend time in nature. The green color from trees and grasses has a calming effect.
- Avoid drinking more than 2 cups of coffee a day. Instead, try a combination of cordyceps and fermented ginseng for sustained energy. A complete B-complex supplement can also improve low energy levels.
- Meditate, find quiet time, turn off electronics.
- Try aromatherapy. Essential oils from lavender, pine, vanilla, and jasmine are calming and soothing.
- Try a supplement that combines lemon balm and theanine (an amino acid from green tea). Although not as powerful as anti-anxiety drugs, the combination does bring a feeling of ease and calm.
- Take adaptogenic herbs. Ashwagandha, rhodiola, and American ginseng are herbs that modulate the effects of cortisol, the stress hormone.
- Don't forget the omega-3 fatty acids. These polyunsaturated fats are important for helping us to maintain a balanced mood.
- Try saffron extract. This is especially important if you crave sugars when stressed. Saffron helps to maintain a balanced mood by optimizing brain serotonin levels.
Don't let stress … stress you out. Taking small steps can have a big impact on your overall emotional health.