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We all have it but is it having a negative effect on your life?

What is stress?

We are all familiar with the word "stress." Stress is when you are worried about getting laid off your job, or worried about not having enough money to pay your bills, or worried about your mother when the doctor says she may need an operation. In fact, to most of us, stress is synonymous with worry.

Your body, however, has a much broader definition of stress. To your body, stress is synonymous with change. Anything that causes a change in your life causes stress. It doesn't matter if it is a "good" change, or a "bad" change. They are both stressful. Even when you find your dream home and get ready to move, that is stressful. If you break your leg, that is stressful. Good or bad, change is stress as far as your body is concerned.

Stress - Feeling Lost?
Psyche opening the door to Cupids Garden
John W. Waterhouse

Symptoms of Stress

Short Term Physical Symptoms
Short Term Performance Effects
Long Term Physical Symptoms
Internal Symptoms of Long Term Stress

Internal Symptoms of Long Term Stress

Short Term Physical Symptoms
These mainly occur as your body adapts to perceived physical threat, and are caused by release of adrenaline. Although you may perceive these as unpleasant and negative, they are signs that your body is ready for the explosive action that assists survival or high performance:
Faster heart beat
Increased sweating
Cool skin
Cold hands and feet
Feelings of nausea, or 'Butterflies in stomach'
Rapid Breathing
Tense Muscles
Dry Mouth
A desire to urinate
These are the symptoms of survival stress.

Short Term Performance Effects
While adrenaline helps you survive in a 'fight-or-flight' situation, it does have negative effects in situations where this is not the case:
It interferes with clear judgement and makes it difficult to take the time to make good decisions.
It can seriously reduce your enjoyment of your work
Where you need good physical skills it gets in the way of fine motor control.
It causes difficult situations to be seen as a threat, not a challenge.
It damages the positive frame of mind you need for high quality work by:
promoting negative thinking,
damaging self-confidence,
narrowing attention,
disrupting focus and concentration and
making it difficult to cope with distractions
It consumes mental energy in distraction, anxiety, frustration and temper. This is energy that should be devoted to the work in hand.

Long Term Physical Symptoms
These occur where your body has been exposed to adrenaline over a long period. One of the ways adrenaline prepares you for action is by diverting resources to the muscles from the areas of the body which carry out body maintenance. This means that if you are exposed to adrenaline for a sustained period, then your health may start to deteriorate. This may show up in the following ways:

Stress - Feeling adrift?
The lady of Shallot
John W. Waterhouse

change in appetite
frequent colds
illnesses such as:
back pain
digestive problems
skin eruptions
sexual disorders
aches and pains
feelings of intense and long-term tiredness

Internal Symptoms of Long Term Stress
When you are under stress or have been tired for a long period of time you may find that you are less able to think clearly and rationally about problems. This can lead to the following internal emotional 'upsets':
Worry or anxiety
Confusion, and an inability to concentrate or make decisions
Feeling ill
Feeling out of control or overwhelmed by events
Mood changes:
Impatience & irritability
Being more lethargic
Difficulty sleeping
Drinking more alcohol and smoking more
Changing eating habits
Reduced sex drive
Relying more on medication

Behavioural Symptoms of Long Term Stress
When you or other people are under pressure, this can show as:
Talking too fast or too loud
Fiddling and twitching, nail biting, grinding teeth, drumming fingers, pacing, etc.
Bad moods:
Being irritable
Being critical
Overreaction and reacting emotionally
Reduced personal effectiveness:
Being unreasonably negative
Making less realistic judgements
Being unable to concentrate and having difficulty making decisions
Being more forgetful
Making more mistakes
Being more accident prone
Changing work habits
Increased absenteeism
Neglect of personal appearance

These symptoms of stress should not be taken in isolation - other factors could cause them. However if you find yourself exhibiting or recognising a number of them, then it would be worth investigating stress management techniques.



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