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Stress 101 part 2: What stress does to our body, brain and mind

Stressed couple arguing over their budget
Tags: Stress

Stress affects us all from individuals to towns/suburbs to cities to countries.

In Australia there are any number of statistics indicating the cost of excessive stress to individuals, the community, the workplace and the economy. They are brain-boggling. Here are just a few ...

  • 35 percent of Australians report having a significant level of distress in their lives (over one third).
  • Just over seven in ten Australians (72%) reported that current stress was having at least some impact on physical health, with almost one in five (17%) reporting that current stress was having a strong to very strong impact on physical health.
  • Over three in four (78%) young adults reported that current stress was having at least some impact on mental health with 26% reporting that their current stress was having a strong to very strong impact on mental health.
  • Financial issues (49%) and family issues (45%) remain the leading causes of stress amongst Australians.

-- Australian Psychological Society

  • Workplace stress is costing the economy 14.81 billion dollars a year.
  • Stress related presentation and absenteeism are costing Australian employers 10.11 billion dollars a year.
  • 3.2 days per year per worker are lost each year through workplace stress.

-- Medibank

In 2013, Bloomberg rated Australia as the world's 70th most stressed out country. The US ranks as the 54th most stressed out. In first to fifth place are Nigeria, South Africa, El Salvador, Mongolia and Guatemala. You could argue that people in these countries have a great deal to stress about, whereas in Australia we have no war or famine and yet we're still experiencing significant levels of stress.

Managing our thoughts and feelings to deal with stress may just be the biggest challenge of our developing species.

Stress is where it starts.

We were starting to understand this in previous decades, but since the 'noughties' stress hardly gets a mention. Most attention is given to the more extremes of anxiety and depression. Yet most experts would agree stress is the starting point - the gateway to more serious conditions. 'Reactive depression' comes from our stress reaction to life.

How stress affects the body

Physical symptoms of stress include:

  • Heart disease, including palpitations high blood pressure, chest pain and coronary artery disease
  • Breathlessness
  • Skin irritation
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Stomach and digestion problems
  • Lowered immune response (more colds and flu
  • Headaches, tension and other aches and pains
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding) fatigue
  • How stress affects the brain:
  • Forgetfulness
  • Lack of ability to think (brain fog)
  • Lack of focus and concentration
  • Indecision

Emotional symptoms of stress include:

  • Vulnerability
  • Distress/agitation/unhappiness
  • Loneliness/withdrawal
  • Irritability, anger or moodiness
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Panic
  • Anxiety and depression (this refers to stress-related anxiety and depression - as opposed to brain chemistry, genetics, or poor brain wiring)
  • Burnout

How stress affects the mind:

  • Lack of sense of self
  • Mindlessness (lack of ability to be self-observant
  • Lack of connectedness
  • Loss of 'spirit' (not necessarily religious but a disconnect with our higher self)

Life-threatening conditions associated with stress are:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Gambling
  • Drug addiction
  • Alcoholism

Do I hear you say, 'No way stress could cause all that'? It can and it does.

It is our inappropriate reaction to stressors (caused by BOB – back of brain - our overactive survival mechanism) that is at the bottom of these physical, mental, emotional and spiritual problems.

We can help ourselves to alleviate stress by practicing good stress management and self-care – and by managing our own stress, we can limit the effect our stress has on others.

Yes, our stress reactions do affect others. Stress is catching – it can make us irritable, moody, abusive, bullying - just plain unpleasant to be around. Aside from this, loved ones can worry about us, causing them stress.

We can help ourselves and others by practising:

  • Good stress management
  • Good self-care
  • Patience
  • Tolerance
  • Assessing our lifestyle or work and making adjustments

Next time, I'll finish this series of posts by looking at my best tips for stress management.


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