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12 July 2017

How stress affects your body

Stress can have many devastating effects on your body. Find out how stress affects you and learn how to fight its negative effects.

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These days we’re constantly on the go and we’re constantly “switched on”.

We access our emails from our phones in the evenings and over weekends, we have multiple conversations across different programmes (Skype, WhatsApp) and every time someone likes a Facebook post or Instagram photo our phones ping with an alert.

There is never any down time!

“A constant demand to be switched on and perform not only results in the experience of stress but also exhausts your energy supplies and actually leads to impaired performance over time,” says clinical psychologist Dr Colinda Linde. 

“Think about why your smart phone switches to hibernate mode, why your car idles at the red light. It's not functional or efficient to be switched on all the time.”  

3 ways stress affects your body

1. Relationships, especially the more intimate ones, tend to suffer when the demands of work or life become too much to handle.

2. Mood shifts occur when there is chronic stress, especially if it is inescapable, for example in a challenging economic situation.

3. Stress also causes behavioural changes that can affect sleep patterns. You cannot fall asleep or stay asleep due to a busy mind, or you’re waking in the early hours and unable to return to sleep. You may find you are unable to get going without excessive stimulants like caffeine or sugar. Stress can also cause you to sleep too much, often as an escape from having to deal with your reality.

Learn to fight stress

“Stress is about a relationship between demands and resources,” explains Dr Linde. “When you know a demand is coming, for example a deadline or a difficult conversation; or you’re experiencing a clear stressor, for example being sick, taking part in an argument, or having lost something, the best response is to find a resource to help you cope with the additional demand.” 

Dr Linde suggests taking time off for a nap, finding a mediator who can help with the conflict or delegating (and asking) for help on a project.

Next, take stock of your demands and resources. Identify where your good resources are and keep them close. Replace any “fake” resources (sugar, caffeine, alcohol, excessive sleep or procrastination) with healthy (functional) ones. 

Dr Linde's quick fixes are:

1. Name it: Awareness is the first step in knowing what the problem is.
2. Take a mini break: You need to take a break every hour, even if it's just walking around the space you're in. Set an alarm if you need to. 
3. Rest your eyes: Give your eyes a one-minute break. 
4. Check for dehydration: Symptoms of dehydration can feel like stress and low mood, check when last you had water.
5. Exercise: Combine exercise with playtime (with children or pets), or combine walking or gym and chat time (with friend or partner).  
6. Make time: Consciously schedule times throughout the week to work, rest and play.

Dr Colinda Linde, quote

Know when to ask for help 

“It’s about quality of life,” says Dr Linde. “When demands outweigh resources for too long, you’ll find that you’re simply going through the motions every day and wishing your life away (until the weekend). You’re living in grey without colour or meaning to your day.”

She also warns of destructive self-harm behaviour: abusing alcohol to sleep, needing several coffees to get going; reliance on over-the-counter medications, inability to make decisions or complete tasks, inability to focus and inability to regulate your emotions. 

“You may also experience impulsive behaviour like overspending, over-eating, gambling, driving too fast, booking a holiday you can't afford or shouldn't be taking, all just to escape the stressful environment. Unfortunately, stress comes with you, and the quick fix of buying now doesn't last, plus it can cause additional problems – and stress – if you don't have the money.” 

If any of these symptoms or behaviours last for two weeks or more, you may need help. “Contact SADAG, your GP or even a homeopath,” urges Dr Linde. “If you start having thoughts of self-harm or suicide – ‘I could just drive into this wall, then I don't have to deal with anything anymore’ – please seek help urgently.”

Practical help
Dr Linde runs a practical workshop where you can learn practical and simple methods for dealing with stress. “Stress is part of life, it cannot be avoided,” she says. “You need to learn how to ride the wave.” 

Visit her website for more information about the workshop. 

Read more:

Booze-free ways to destress

Could reducing your stress levels help you lose weight?

13 hidden signs of stress

 
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