What is stress?
This is how the brain and body respond to the demands placed on them. An actual or perceived threat to someone is known as the ‘stressor’ and their response to it is called the ‘stress response’. Some stress is normal and generates the motivation we need to lead productive lives, but each of us has a limit beyond which we can cope.
Causes of stress
There are many life events that people may experience as stressful, like regular travel disruption – late into work and/or back home; the loss of someone or something important to them; illness or injury; sudden change of life-style, or loss of identity; change of job or accommodation; changes at work; financial worries; family.
Everyone has their own way of responding to stress. Some people experience physical signs such as muscle tension, headaches and difficulty sleeping. Others may have more emotional reactions such as outbursts of crying or anger.
If someone thinks a situation is stressful it triggers their body’s ‘fight or flight’ reaction, causing the release of adrenalin, a natural body chemical. This starts the first stage of the stress response.
Depending on the nature, intensity and duration of stressors encountered, combined with their ability to cope with them, a person may experience one, two or all of the following stages:
Stage 1 – mobilisation of energy
All bodily activity is increased in response to a stressor that is experienced as frightening. It starts the body’s ‘fight or flight’ reaction, causing the release of adrenalin. This is called primary stress.
It can also be the result of situations where someone chooses to put themselves under stress – for example taking an exam, or going for a job interview. This is called secondary stress.
Physical symptoms include increased heart rate and blood pressure; rapid breathing; sweating; decreased digestion rate, creating ‘butterflies’ and indigestion.
Stage 2 – exhaustion or consuming energy
If there is no escape from the first stage, for example when a person’s stressors are severe and prolonged, the body will start to release stored sugars and fats, using up its resources.
Symptoms may include feeling driven or pressured; tiredness and fatigue – often accompanied by loss of appetite or increased comfort eating and/or an increase in smoking, coffee drinking and/or consumption of alcohol or other drugs; anxiety; memory loss; acute illnesses such as colds and flu; loss of libido
A 2015 British Acupuncture Council study of 5,000 UK resident adults showed that over half of those surveyed felt more stressed currently than ten years previously and that they turned to junk food and alcohol to try and feel better. A third admitted to comfort eating when stressed, a quarter divulged drinking alcohol and as a result 1 in 5 of them admitted that they put on weight.
Stage 3 – draining energy stores
If the stressful situation remains unresolved, the person may become chronically stressed. Their body’s need for energy resources exceeds its ability to produce them and over time, they may develop symptoms of poor physical and mental health. These might include hypertension (high blood pressure); heart disease; digestive disorders such as ulcers and IBS; diabetes; mental illnesses like depression or anxiety; chronic insomnia.
How acupuncture may help to reduce the effects of stress
Acupuncture gently and safely reduces muscle tension, calms the emotions and promotes relaxation. This can encourage better sleep, mood and energy, stimulating improvements in health and wellbeing.
If you are experiencing difficult symptoms of stress and would like to see if acupuncture can help you, we have a regular acupuncture clinic here at Mid Sussex Osteopaths with Christine MacFie. To book your appointment please book online or call reception on 01444 360359.