Whether it's a change at work, Brexit, a break-up, or other life event, it's almost guaranteed that something will stress you out in 2018. Stress Awareness Month has been held every April, since 1992, with the intention of raising awareness of the causes and cures for stress. Here's how to spot the signs of stress and what to do about them.
Stress awareness – spot stress symptoms
A stressful life event, and ongoing stress, can have a dazzling array of effects on your health, happiness, and behaviour. If you're experiencing any of the following symptoms, it might be time to examine the sources of stress in your life and take steps to address them
Bodily effects of stress
Headache or migraine
Muscle tension or pain
Fatigue or extreme tiredness
Shaking (body tremors) and poor ability to regulate body temperature
Change in libido (sex drive)
Upset stomach (diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, etc.)
Sleep problems (insomnia, nightmares, excessive sleep, etc.)
Emotional effects of stress
Feelings of anxiousness and/or restlessness
Poor motivation and/or ability to focus or concentrate
Irritability or anger (a 'short fuse')
Sadness or depression.
Behavioural effects of stress
Changes in appetite and/or overeating or undereating
Angry outbursts (a propensity to snap at loved ones, colleagues, family pets, or strangers)
Misuse of drugs and/or alcohol and/or tobacco
Withdrawing from friends, family, and social gatherings
Exercising less often.
In some cases, it can be hard to spot the signs of stress because they may overlap with existing health conditions. Indeed, managing a chronic or acute health condition can lead to stress! With the exception of chest pain, where you likely want to call emergency services right away, if any of the symptoms above persist for more than a few days, it's wise to consult a health care practitioner for advice. Some symptoms of stress may be the result of an undiagnosed health condition, so it's best to get yourself checked out and know exactly what you're dealing with. Taking back control is often the first step to tackling stress effectively.
Speaking of which….
How to handle stress – a rapid fire guide
Some stress is unavoidable, but if you find yourself consistently feeling stressed by life events that don't seem to affect others the same way, it's a good idea to spend some time figuring out some new coping mechanisms. This might mean working with a professional counsellor to establish the underlying causes of your stress response and then establishing effective ways to mitigate your reaction to stressors so they don't have such a negative impact.
Although popular home remedies for stress, alcohol, tobacco, and recreational drugs are not recommended for effective stress management. These substances can increase the negative impact of even mild stressors and make you more susceptible to future stress. That, and the fact that these substances can impair your decision-making process and lead you to worsen an already stressful situation or create an entirely new stressful event!
Additionally, playing video games or watching TV or movies might seem relaxing but can actually increase stress levels. Instead, try to find active ways to handle stress. Some healthier options for stress management include:
- Exercising regularly (ideally in a fun way in a social setting)
- Practicing relaxation techniques (deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi, etc.)
- Getting a massage or using a floatation tank
- Seeing live comedy!
- Spending fun time with friends and family
- Reading a book or listening to music
- Cooking and eating a healthy, balanced meal with friends and family.
- Getting plenty of sleep!
A little extra help
If the strategies above aren't working their magic, you might want to consider getting a little extra help. Several natural health products have been shown time and again to offer great benefits during times of acute stress (such as exams), while others can support all-round health if stress is a chronic concern.
Seven of the most effective supplements to help with stress include:
- L-Theanine (the amino acid found in tea) – helps to induce alpha brain waves associated with a calm, relaxed state of mind (Einöther & Martens, 2013; Unno et al., 2013).
- Gamma amino butyric acid (GABA) - a powerful inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps to reduce cortisol levels, calm a racing mind, and promote relaxation without drowsiness (Abdou et al., 2006; Kanehira et al., 2001).
- Calcium and Magnesium – Essential minerals for muscle and nerve function, a lack of these nutrients can lead to headaches, anxiety, sleep problems, muscle cramps and tension (Carroll et al., 2000).
- Vitamin B6 - B vitamins are vital for energy production and nerve health, and demand increases when we're stressed. Combining vitamin B6 and magnesium may help with stress symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome (De Souza et al., 2000; Hanus et al., 2004).
- Omega-3 – long-chain fatty acids DHA and EPA support brain health and may help lessen feelings of anxiousness while supporting a healthy mood (Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 2011). Omega-3 might also help you stay away from unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol (Buydens-Branchey et al., 2008).
- Rhodiola rosea – this adaptogenic herb helps the body to handle stress, improving resilience and supporting energy levels, memory, learning, and attention, as well as sleep, without inducing drowsiness (Darbinyan et al., 2007; Bystritsky et al., 2008).
- Probiotics – stress can upset your gastrointestinal system, and an upset stomach can also increase your risk of stress. Probiotics help to restore balance and increase the synthesis of essential neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine for healthy mood balance (Wallace & Milev).
If you're suffering from serious or ongoing stress and are worried about its impact on your health, be sure to consult a qualified health care practitioner for guidance. Many natural health products can be used safely alongside lifestyle modifications to help with stress as well as alongside conventional stress management techniques.
Abdou, A.M., et al. (2006). Relaxation and immunity enhancement effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) administration in humans. Biofactors, 26(3):201-8.
Buydens-Branchey, L., Branchey, M., Hibbeln, J.R. (2008). Associations between increases in plasma n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids following supplementation and decreases in anger and anxiety in substance abusers. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry, Feb 15; 32(2):568-75.
Bystritsky, A., et al. (2008). A pilot study of Rhodiola rosea (Rhodax) for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). J Altern Complement Med, 14(2):175-80.
Carroll, D., Ring, C., Suter, M., et al. (2000). The effects of an oral multivitamin combination with calcium, magnesium, and zinc on psychological well-being in healthy young male volunteers: a double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Psychopharmacology (Berl), Jun; 150(2):220-5.
Darbinyan, V., et al. (2007). Clinical trial of Rhodiola rosea L. extract SHR-5 in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. Nord J Psychiatry, 61(5):343-8.
De Souza, M.C., Walker, A.F., Robinson, P.A., et al. (2000). A synergistic effect of a daily supplement for 1 month of 200 mg magnesium plus 50 mg vitamin B6 for the relief of anxiety-related premenstrual symptoms: a randomized, double-blind, crossover study. J Womens Health Gend Based Med, Mar; 9(2):131-9.
Einöther, S.J., & Martens, V.E. (2013). Acute effects of tea consumption on attention and mood. Am J Clin Nutr, 98(6 Suppl):1700S-1708S.
Hanus, M., Lafon, J., Mathieu, M. (2004). Double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled study to evaluate the efficacy and safety of a fixed combination containing two plant extracts (Crataegus oxyacantha and Eschscholtzia californica) and magnesium in mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders. Curr Med Res Opin, Jan; 20(1):63-71.
Kanehira, T., Yoshiko, N., Nakamura, K., et al. (2011). Relieving occupational fatigue by consumption of a beverage containing γ-amino butyric acid. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol, 57, 9–15.
Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K., Belury, M.A., Andridge, R., et al. (2011). Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: a randomized controlled trial. Brain Behav Immun, Nov; 25(8):1725-34.
Unno K, Tanida N, Ishii N, et al. (2013). Anti-stress effect of theanine on students during pharmacy practice: positive correlation among salivary a-amylase activity, trait anxiety and subjective stress. Pharmacol Biochem Behav, 111:128-35.
Wallace, C.J.K., & Milev, R. (2017). The effects of probiotics on depressive symptoms in humans: a systematic review. Annals of General Psychiatry, 16, 14.