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Condition
Stress is a normal reaction to the everyday challenges in life. It evolved over thousands of years to help people respond to danger. It is not always harmful. Stress helps to keep the mind alert and helps with performance. However, stress starts to have a negative effect when it becomes too intense and the person affected does not know how to deal with it or is unable to cope with it.
Class
Central nervous system
Description
Stress is a normal reaction to the everyday challenges in life. It evolved over thousands of years to help people respond to danger. It is not always harmful. Stress helps to keep the mind alert and helps with performance. However, stress starts to have a negative effect when it becomes too intense and the person affected does not know how to deal with it or is unable to cope with it.

Causes
Stress refers to anything that puts psychological or physical strain on an individual. Different people view and react to stress in different ways. Some may have passive personalities that make them ‘easy-going’, not easily upset that allows them to cope with relative ease to stressful events. Others may have more aggressive or competitive personalities that cause them to react strongly even to everyday occurrences and inconveniences. People’s different life experiences and health will also affect how they deal with stress. Modern day life in itself is a cause of stress. Activities and deadlines are very time-pressured and competitive, technology and ways of working are changing rapidly, marriage/partnership breakdowns are common, as too are worries about money. In other words a change, lack of control and high workload can all lead to stress.

Whatever a person’s reaction is to stress, the processes usually begin as the result of the body producing increased amounts of a transmitter called adrenaline to cope with the stress or danger. This is called the ‘fight or flight’ reaction, which evolved to help animals choose to stay and fight the danger (for example a predator) or try to escape from it. The ‘fight or flight’ reaction is impractical in modern society as usually a person can not physically attack or run away from the thing or person that is causing stress. As a result, the body has no outlet for the relief of stress and so it causes physical and/or psychological changes in the body.

Symptoms
Too much stress can affect performance and can, in the long-term, lead to physical and psychological health problems.

The more immediate symptoms of stress include mood swings, anxiety, increased heart rate or palpitations, tiredness, muscle tension, low self-esteem, poor concentration and memory loss. Sleep and eating patterns may also change. If stress continues, eventually long term effects such as high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and depression may develop.

Treatment
Although once commonly used, drugs known as benzodiazepines, for example diazepam, should not be used for the treatment of stress. While benzodiazepines may help relieve symptoms of anxiety, their use for stress-related symptoms is no longer considered appropriate. Even if used to relieve anxiety, for example worry about flying on an aeroplane, they should only be taken for a short period of time as they may cause dependence.

Similarly, the use of drugs known as beta-blockers, for example propranolol, is not appropriate to treat stress, but they may be used to reduce the heart rate or palpitations of stressful events such as examinations or taking a driving test.

See Living with stress below.

When to see your pharmacist
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 who will be able to offer advice and support.

When to see your doctor
If you are finding it difficult to deal with stress and it is having an effect on your general health, consult your doctor. Just talking about your problems with someone can help you cope or can provide advice on resolving the problems causing stress. You may be advised to talk to a local stress counsellor or therapist for advice on helping to manage the way you deal with stressful events.

Living with stress
Turning to alcohol, cigarettes or junk foods can make stress worse. Identifying and dealing with the cause of stress is a sure way of reducing that stress. It is also worth trying some stress coping mechanisms, attending stress management courses or seeking help from a stress counsellor.

Changing your lifestyle can bring major benefits. Take up regular physical exercise. Initially, you may think that you do not have time to exercise and that taking time out in your already busy day will make your stress levels higher not lower. However, just 15 minutes break during the day or 30 minutes break at the end of the working day will help you relax, compose your thoughts and make you work more effectively.

Organise your working environment so that you are comfortable when working. Try to organise the things that you need to do. Prioritise activities so that you focus on those that are most important first. Try not to do too much and do not set yourself unattainable targets. Delegate where possible and do not get upset if you or others do not manage to achieve all of the things that you set out to do.

Do not let everyday occurrences upset you. It may sound silly, but just by ‘counting to ten’ when something or someone upsets you, will take the heat out of the moment and give you time to relax.

Useful Tips
  • Talk to someone about the stress you are experiencing
  • Seek professional counselling if you need it
  • Give yourself the time and space to relax
  • Keep a stress diary for a few weeks, it will help you identify common stress patterns so that you can focus on resolving them
  • Avoid nicotine, alcohol, coffee or tranquillisers
  • Exercise or any physical activity will help work-off stress
  • Try out some stress reduction techniques and use them regularly
  • Make sure you get enough rest and sleep
  • Manage your time better, learn to prioritise and delegate
  • Be aware of your own warning signs for stress and try to deal with them early on
  • Mood swings can be helped by eating a balanced diet, ie one that is high in complex carbohydrates (eg wholemeal bread, potatoes) rather than refined carbohydrates (eg sweets and biscuits)

Further information
International Stress Management Association UK (ISMA UK) is the leading professional body representing a multi-disciplinary professional health and well-being membership in the UK and the Republic of Ireland that promotes sound knowledge and best practice in the prevention and reduction of human stress.
ISMA UK's website provides useful advice about identifying and coping with stress, and the organisation runs training courses on stress management.
ISMAUK
PO BOX 491
Bradley
Stoke
BRISTOL
BS34 9AH
Tel: 01179 697284
Email: stress@isma.org.uk
Web: www.isma.org.uk

Reviewed on 27 July 2011


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