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Stress and you: stress less, sleep more, feel better

Stress is a term used to describe the body’s response to threat or pressure. These external factors activate an internal response in the nervous system. Stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, are released in the brain, sending a signal that rouses the body to react to an impending emergency. The heart pounds, muscles tighten, blood pressure elevates and senses are switched to high alert. These physiological changes increase strength and stamina, explaining why people of normal size and strength have sometimes been able to spontaneously lift a car off a person who was trapped underneath it. Reaction time and focus are also enhanced. It is clear that the stress response serves a vital function.
When people are chronically stressed, however, it can contribute to burnout and a wide variety of health problems including obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. There is a strong link between stress and insomnia, and conversely, between sleep deprivation and a reduced ability to cope with stress. People who are chronically stressed are at increased risk of developing issues with alcohol, illicit drugs or prescription medicines.

Major life stressors include:
Getting married
Job loss
Financial problems
Moving house
Becoming a victim of crime (self or close relative)
Acting as a caregiver for a family member
Major illness (self or close relative)
Other triggers for stress:
Attitudes, including perfectionism and unrealistic expectations
Anxiety or depression
Fear and uncertainty
When major life stressors are responsible for feelings of stress, changing the way you think about them can in turn change the way you feel and act. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may assist with this process. Making a list of the things in life that are causing you stress can be a helpful way to sharpen your awareness of stressors and decide how they can be managed or reduced. Identifying potentially negative coping mechanisms is another important step, as many of these can have long term impacts on health and wellbeing.

Examples include:
Abusing alcohol or drugs
Binge eating, particularly junk food
Oversleeping to avoid facing reality
Compulsive busyness to avoid facing reality
Angry outbursts, snapping at others
Social withdrawal, isolating oneself
If these behaviours look familiar, it may be time to seriously re-evaluate your stress management strategies, and the impact of stress on your quality of life.
Healthier ways of managing stress include:
Regular exercise
Relaxation techniques
Listening to music
Getting enough sleep
Spending time with positive people
• Stress is one of the main causes of insomnia and other sleep disorders
• Laughter is a simple and effective way to counter stress. It lowers levels of stress hormones including cortisol and adrenaline, and stimulates the release of feel-good hormones like dopamine
• Russia, France and Italy poll as the least stressed nations
• Chocolate reduces stress due to the antioxidant content
• Chronic stress bathes the brain in chemicals meant to be for emergency use only. This can kill off healthy brain cells
• Working mothers with little support have a much greater risk of stress-related suicide
• The brain and nerves, muscles and joints, heart, stomach, pancreas, intestines and reproductive system can all be affected by stress
• Food and drink with a high vitamin C content can reduce levels of stress hormones in the body. Two glasses of orange juice per day is recommended
• The magnesium and potassium in oatmeal can reduce blood pressure and promote relaxation. Oatmeal consumption can also increase levels of “happy hormone” serotonin.

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