Stress is a part of the body’s natural alarm system that is meant to protect you in dangerous situations. The body reacts to stress in the same way as it would react to a major threat: it starts to produce more adrenaline and cortisol – the “stress hormone”.
As a part of the natural response to stress, the blood pressure rises, the heartbeat becomes faster, the breathing becomes lighter and the muscles become tense. The body also directs less blood to body systems that it would not consider essential in a danger situation. The result is that the immune system, the digestion and the reproductive system slow down.
Normally all these systems would return to their regular functions, and the hormone levels would return to normal, after the danger is over. However if you are always stressed, your body and mind are constantly in a state of alarm.
Typical symptoms of stress include
- sleeping problems: insomnia, poor sleep, waking up tired
- muscle aches and pains
- headaches, migraines
- digestive problems
- mood swings, irritability, anxiety
- sadness or depression
- changes in energy levels
- changes in sex drive
- changes in appetite: craving for foods and overeating or lack of appetite
- increase in cholesterol levels
- frequent colds and flu as the immune system does not function properly
- skin problems, such as skin rashes
In the long term stress can have serious consequences for your health.
How to Deal with Stress
Stressful things happen in life and some stress can even be helpful in the short term. Because it is impossible to live a life that never includes anything stressful, challenging or negative, it is important to learn to manage stress and to notice its symptoms in yourself.
The causes of stress can include worries about work, finances or domestic situations, overworking, physical problems (such as long-term illness), or emotional problems. Stress often results from having unrealistic expectations or facing unrealistic pressures, trying to cope with too much, and simply trying to deal with modern life.
When stress continues long-term, it can lead to severe health problems. It is important to learn to prevent and to manage stress. You may not be able to prevent difficult things from happening but you can learn to manage your response and to keep your stress under control. Relaxation techniques are a necessary part of dealing with and preventing stress.
The Mayo Clinic: Stress: Constant stress puts your health at risk (online article)
The International Federation of Aromatherapists: The Role of Aromatherapy in Stress Management (opens a PDF file)
The International Federation of Aromatherapists: Aromatherapy and its Role in Relieving Stress (opens a PDF file)
Photo: Becky Wetherington