Stress is the feeling of being under pressure resulting in psychological and physical bodily changes. Anxiety is a feeling of unease, and may be related to worry or fear. Everyone will experience stress and anxiety from time to time in their life. In many cases it is normal to feel anxious or stressed about giving an exam or a job interview.
When the body experiences stress or anxiety the normal physiological response is ‘flight-or fight’, releasing a number of hormones to focus on increasing our ability to overcome the threat. In most instances once the stressor is removed or ends the body will return to a normal relaxed state. In cases where there is a continuous state of being stressed the body remains in a constant state of alarm.
Symptoms of Stress & Anxiety
Both psychological and physical symptoms can occur. These include; feelings of worry, unable to concentrate; easily irritable; on high alert; being on the edge, difficulty relaxing, requiring constant reassurance from others; feeling tearful and scared. Physically people may feel palpitation, breathing heavily, feeling sick, headaches, chest pains, sweating, loss of appetite and sleep, feeling faint and needing the toilet more often.
Chronic stress over a long period of time can manifest as back pain, asthma, fatigue, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, raise blood pressure, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as the aging process. It can also suppresses the immune system affecting wound healing process and increasing susceptibility to infections.
Treatment of Stress & Anxiety
Stress & Anxiety management is a necessary skills required for modern day living. Today’s life style has multiple demands from work or job pressures, family and home, relationships and financial needs. Events such as starting a new job, getting married, a new baby or buying a new house although positive, can still cause stress and anxiety. The approach to managing is to be able to identify the cause and then take action or develop strategies to reduce it. This can be as simple as avoiding a stressful situation e.g. take the bus to work instead of driving through heavy traffic that causes you stress. Additionally, making lifestyle changes such as regularly physical activity, cut back on or quit smoking and caffeinated drinks, avoid alcohol, eat healthily, adequate good quality sleep and rest.
Integrative & Complementary medicine
Acupuncture research shows that symptoms of stress & anxiety related disorders can benefit. It acts on the brain to reduce sensitivity to stress, deactivates the ‘analytical’ brain which is responsible for anxiety and worry and therefore stress induced behaviour. It improves memory function which has been affected by stress and reduces the levels of corticosterone and other immune reactive cells. Therefore reducing inflammatory responses resulting from stress. Neurotransmitters and hormones (serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, GABA, neuropeptides and ACTH) levels are regulated. Acupuncture affects the parasympathetic nervous system which initiates the body’s relaxation response.
Nutrition: L-Theanine (found in green tea) can help with promoting relaxation. Herbal using Kava or St. John’s Wort have anxiolytic effects however they need to be used with caution due to safety concerns. Kava is currently banned in some countries.
Aromatherapy & Massage: Stress is a multi-dimensional syndrome involving the mind, body and emotions. A massage is a sensory experience and can often be more appealing than visiting a counsellor. Combined with the fragrance of the essential oils it is inherently de-stressing. Many essential oils are available to cope with symptoms of stress & anxiety through there sedative and anxiolytic properties e.g. bergamot, Roman and German chamomile, clary sage, frankinscence, ylang ylang or lavender.
Other therapies: Reflexology, guided imagery, meditation, hypnotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and spiritual healing can be helpful to reduce stress & anxiety.
Read these articles:
Stress, anxiety & depression. (2014) NHS Choices.
Stress. (2011) British Acupuncture Council
Having short periods or pauses in your day when you practice relaxation techniques such as mindfulness, tai chi, yoga, breathing, meditation or a walk in the garden. For some people participating in sports activities can help to ‘unwind’ and relax.
Nutritional supplements such as vitamin B, magnesium and calcium help to support the nervous system. Ginseng increases tolerance to stress, while valerian reduces stress in some people.