Seventy-five percent of people report they regularly feel a significant physical and psychological impact of stress on their lives. We are told stress is a normal part of life, but when does it become a problem?
General practitioner Dr Jill Gamberg said acute stress is not bad for us - this is our fight or flight system.
"If you encounter a perceived threat, like a dog barking during your morning walk, this causes the brain to stimulate the adrenal glands, located on top of the kidneys, to release a surge of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol," she said.
"Adrenaline increases your heart rate, blood pressure, and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars in the bloodstream.
"This enhances the brain's use of sugars. Cortisol also curbs non-essential functions. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes.
"This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear. The stress-response system then turns off after the event. When the dog runs away and the threat is over.
"It is not acute stress that causes issues for people, it is long-term activation of the stress response system and overexposure to stress hormones that can cause many problems."
Dr Gamberg said the problem was when people begin to experience chronic stress.
"Chronic stress, is when your fight or flight system never turns off. This disrupts almost all your body processes, and can cause significant physical and psychological impairment," she said.
Some of the symptoms of chronic stress may include: fatigue, headache, upset stomach, muscle tension, poor appetite, irritability, anger, low mood, and difficulty managing work and family responsibilities.
Where does stress come from? The causes of stress are common and diverse, including:
- Pressure from a job - overloaded with work, having a difficult boss
- Health concerns - acute or chronic illness
- Financial issues - loss of job, retirement, children
- Relationship difficulties - loss of spouse through death or divorce; loneliness, arguments
- Media exposure - too much social media, gaming, TV, internet
- Poor nutrition - processed foods, refined sugars, not enough food, alcohol, caffeine
- Poor sleep - chronic sleep deprivation.
How can we manage our stress? Dr Gamberg recommends staying on top of these risk factors before they become a problem.
Top tips for stress management:
- Keep a "to-do" list and prioritise important tasks first
- Keep sight of your big goals in life and work
- Take time to reflect and plan
- Eat a healthy nutritious diet
- Get regular physical activity
- Make sleep a priority, ensuring good sleep hygiene and adequate sleep
- Engage in a new hobby, listen to music or read a book
- Nurture your healthy friendships and debrief often
- Have a good laugh - watch a funny movie, see a comedy show
- Volunteer in your community
- Practise relaxation techniques like deep breathing, massage, meditation, and yoga
- Seek professional help when needed - see your doctor or psychologist.
For more information visit HealthShare, a digital company dedicated to improving the health of regional Australians. Or you can find a specialist near you using the health tool below.