Stress is a normal reaction to the everyday challenges in life. It evolved over thousands of years to help us respond to danger. It is not all bad – stress helps to keep us alert and helps with our performance. However, stress starts to have a negative impact when it becomes too intense and interferes with our day to day activities. And while stress isn’t, in itself, an illness, it can lead to serious illness if left unaddressed.
What causes stress?
Stress is linked to our ‘fight or flight’ response which is the way we react to perceived danger, pressure or threats. When faced with these challenges our body produces a surge of hormones to ready us to flee or to stay and defend ourselves. Once the threat (or pressured situation) has passed our stress hormone levels return to normal. However, if we are constantly under stress these hormones build up leading to stress symptoms, some of which we may try to mask by turning to things like comfort food or alcohol.
How is stress treated?
For situations that are very stressful but short-lived, for example taking a driving test or sitting an exam, a GP may prescribe beta-blocker tablets to help with palpitations.
For ongoing stress, there are many different methods that one can try to help keep stress in check. Some people swear by relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation. Others find that regular exercise such as jogging, swimming or walking can help general stresses seem more manageable.
If stresses really do feel insurmountable and lead to health problems such as headaches and muscle pain a doctor may refer you to a counsellor or therapist. Psychological treatments can include: cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which changes negative patterns of thinking, Interpersonal therapy (IPT) which teaches effective communication, Psychodynamic Therapy which helps patients understand past conflicts and counselling which allows the patient to talk through issues in their everyday lives.
Alternative Therapies & Self-help
There are a number of herbal remedies that are claimed to help relieve stress. Talk to your pharmacist to see if these are right for you. Your pharmacist will also be able to help put you in touch with counsellors in your area for advice and support.
Try to avoid turning to alcohol, smoking or recreational drugs to help you cope. These will mask rather than solve problems and cause health problems of their own.