Stress and anxiety have never been more prevalent than they are today for South Australians.
Stress is any demand placed on the body, either physically or mentally.
It may be simply triggered by an event or set or circumstances, often which we feel we cannot control.
One of the by-products of stress is anxiety, often defined as a feeling of fear, worry, nervousness or unease.
It is important to recognise that anxiety may also be present without any obvious stressors.
The demands of today’s fast-paced society, especially in Australian culture with its rich with its vast myriad of stimulants, have led to more stress and anxiety than ever.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that 42.9% of people aged 16-85 have experienced a mental disorder at some time in their life.
It also reveals 21.5% of people have experienced a mental disorder lasting at least 12 months.
Anxiety (17.2%) is the most common of those ailments.
Unfortunately, one of the consequences for people who suffer chronic stress and anxiety is that mental health issues morph into physical health issues.
So what are the short and long-term impacts of stress and anxiety and how can we resolve them?
Short-term effects of stress and anxiety
Increased heartbeat and blood pressure
One of the first and most obvious responses noticed by anyone suffering stress or anxiety is what is known as the “fight-flight-freeze” moment.
This is the result of the body releasing adrenaline and other hormones when it senses a perceived threat.
It affects our thoughts and actions as we are geared towards making an immediate decision to stay and fight, freeze or run.
A byproduct is the increase in our heartbeat and blood pressure which is sustainable in the short term but not in the long term.
Breathing patterns become shorter and more shallow when we are stressed.
This is because our abdominal muscles suffer tension inhibiting movement in our diaphragms.
It makes breathing more difficult because of respiratory muscle fatigue.
This can lead to hyperventilation, potentially causing dizziness or tightness in the chest.
This is when breathing into a paper bag can help by putting lost carbon dioxide back into our lungs.
There is an old adage in the medical profession that the stomach is the barometer of the mind.
That is because stress causes changes to the digestive system, inducing problems such as indigestion, stomach aches and diarrhoea.
The ‘gut-brain’ connection is well acknowledged by scientists.
Many refer to the gut as our second brain, also known as the enteric nervous system (ENS).
It is a complex network that connects the oesophagus, stomach and intestines.
It is responsible for that ‘gut feeling’ or ‘butterflies’ in the stomach that we sometimes feel.
Long-term effects of stress and anxiety
Chronic health conditions
Long-term stress may trigger a range of chronic conditions, many which may be irreversible.
These include heart disease, diabetes and other autoimmune disorders such as arthritis and skin conditions.
Long-term stress also make us more vulnerable to digestive problems.
These may include weight gain, peptic ulcers, ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
There have also been studies suggesting long-term stress may promote cancer development.
That is why it is so important to address stress before it triggers serious physical conditions.
Weakened immune system
Stress compromises the immune system, making it more susceptible to infections and illnesses and less capable of fighting them.
A healthy immune system is of paramount importance when it comes to warding off viruses, bacteria, parasites and even cancer cells.
Mental health implications
As flagged above, untreated anxiety can lead to crippling mental health disorders.
These disorders may prevent people from participating in every day life, including work.
That is why seeking professional help at the earliest opportunity is so important.
It can help sufferers learn and understand techniques to help them manage their stress and anxiety.
How to tackle stress and anxiety
The “fight-flight-freeze” response is a natural reaction to danger.
But there are methods you can employ to calm yourself and better manage stressful situations.
- Taking slow deep breaths in an effort to counter the shallow breathing and increased respiratory rate that confrontation causes.
- Learning your body triggers. Substances such as coffee or alcohol, foods high in sugar or highly processed may make you more prone to suffering attacks.
- Accepting rather than fighting your natural response to stress. Fighting it can often exacerbate your condition.
- While accepting your response, also try to analyse it and rationalise whether it is really justified. Consider whether you are overreacting to a threat which perhaps is not as great as you perceive.
- Understanding the importance of healthy lifestyle choices including healthy eating, getting enough sleep and sufficient hydration.
- Research indicates that incorporating regular exercise into your daily routine promotes greater resilience to stressful situations.
- Exploring mindfulness and meditation techniques to relax and calm yourself when under pressure.
- Seeing a doctor to ensure that there are no underlying medical conditions promoting your stress. An irregular heartbeat may be misconstrued as stress. Certain medications may have negative physical or mental side-effects.
Book an appointment with a GP in Seaford
Long-term stress and anxiety can be one of life’s most debilitating afflictions.
Taking proactive steps to deal with the effects of stress and anxiety are critical to warding off the threat of both short and long-term health implications.
That’s why teaching yourself to recognise these feelings are so important and why visiting an experienced GP should be your first response.
Your GP can talk to you about techniques to manage your reactions to stressful moments and the associated feelings that accompany them.
Keeping your sense of control over a situation is the first step towards overcoming the potentially destructive effects of stress and anxiety.
At AHA Clinics, doctors take the time to really listen to your feelings and concerns before suggesting an appropriate course of action.
Don’t suffer in silence.
Your health is too important and should be made an absolute priority not just for yourself but your loved ones as well.
Book an appointment here today at either our Seaford Road Day and Night Clinic or our Seaford Meadows Day and Night Clinic.