Stress affects each and every one of us. If your stress levels are only mild, you’re in luck – small amounts of stress can actually be beneficial for your brain. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found that a little bit of stress (short-term as opposed to chronic stress which can persist over time) could benefit mental performance by causing brain cells to flourish into new nerve cells.
However, too much stress – that is, feelings of stress or mild anxiety that continue for weeks and months on end – can manifest into unhealthy physical and mental symptoms, which could have more serious health implications.
A report released by the Australian Psychological Society found that financial issues were the leading cause of stress amongst Australians, with more than half of Australians identifying finances as a cause of stress. While we all have different triggers – whether they’re financial, work-related, family-related or caused by additional pressures – the first signs of stress usually manifest in physical and emotional symptoms.
You are probably familiar with the common signs and symptoms of stress—shortness of breath, headaches, worrying, and fatigue. It’s helpful to try to find healthy and where possible, natural ways to work on these signs of stress before they start to affect your health more seriously and give way to long-term, chronic stress.
Long-term stress is associated with a range of health concerns, such as low mood, weight issues and sleeplessness. Gastrointestinal problems, hormonal issues and sexual dysfunction can also occur as a result of long-term stress.
There is an increasing body of research into how stress impacts the body, as well as the various ways to overcome it. Here’s what some of the latest science has uncovered.
Mindful meditation can help you deal with both the mental and physical impact of stress, according to research published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science. Mindfulness is an ancient meditative practice that involves sitting quietly, focusing all your energy on slow, deep breathing, and aiming to be still in the present moment, without worrying about the past or future.
Researchers from Penn State found that walnuts and walnut oil could help equip the body to cope with stress. The findings, which looked at how walnuts and walnut oil impact blood pressure during times of stress as well as without, were published in the October 2010 edition of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.
The Australian Psychological Society (APS) recommends identifying your warning signs and triggers, and putting steps into place to help yourself calm down before your stress levels escalate. The APS also points out that the practice of establishing predictable daily routines can be both calming and reassuring in times of stress.
Taking steps to live a healthy, active lifestyle, and seeking the support of friends and loved ones will also help you stay positive and will provide support if your stress becomes too consuming.
If you feel as if you’re not coping with the amount of stress in your life and are finding it difficult to manage your day-to-day tasks, seek the help of a healthcare professional who can assess your situation and provide personalised support.
References available on request.