Do you feel annoyed and overwhelmed by the smallest of events? Maybe even unmotivated, drained, and tired? Are you constantly in a bad mood and are unhappy with your professional and/or private life? Do you find it hard to switch off? If so, it's probable that you're in a vicious circle of stress. But you're not alone. Recent studies have shown that almost six out of ten Germans consider their lives to be stressful. Excessive strains at work, the constant pressure of deadlines, family stress, financial worries – all these factors can cause you to feel constantly tired and exhausted. The ability to be reached at all times thanks to modern communication technologies and sensory overload from the media also have a negative impact on this. It is estimated that one in six days of corporate absenteeism is caused by stress and work pressure. Therefore, all things considered, this is reason enough to take a closer look at the topic of stress.
Stress and Stressors
Stress symptoms were first scientifically proven by U.S. physiologist Walter B. Cannon in 1915 – who referred to them under the term "fight or flight". His work was based on his interest in the underlying reasons for the frequent occurrence of post-traumatic stress disorder among soldiers from the First World War. He described "fight or flight" as a reaction to the way living beings suddenly adapt physically and mentally to dangerous situations. During this reaction, the brain quickly releases adrenalin, which increases the heart rate and rate of breathing, which provides the body with a reserve of energy. This energy reserve provides the drive needed to act in the interest of survival in a way that is appropriate to the stress situation – fight or flight. These situations are also referred to as "stressors", any internal or external demand that the organism has to overcome and adapt to. These processes are handled by the vegetative (autonomous) nervous system and are not controlled by our will or mind. This becomes apparent when we realize that stress is a defense mechanism that has been established for millions of years. In the event of danger, the body mobilizes energy reserves within seconds to enable the muscles to be at immediate readiness. This was important for prehistoric man to enable them to be ready for a fight or flight reaction in the blink of an eye. If, for example, a person in the Stone Age had to think and decide whether to fight or run every time they met a predator, man would have been unlikely to last very long at all. However, when under prolonged stress, additional hormones (cortisol, for example) which stimulate the metabolism are produced by the adrenal cortex. This is due to the fact that adrenalin is effective immediately, but only briefly. The result of this is that sustained stress can cause the organism to be damaged or even collapse. If we do not give our body respite by changing or moving away from the stress situation, then these stress hormones are not broken down, and the body remains under tension.
Negative and Positive Stress
Yet the title of "father of stress" is not given to Walter B. Cannon, but to Austrian-Canadian medical specialist Dr. Hans Selye (1907–1982), who defined the term "stress" in 1936. In the following decades, he published more than 1,700 essays and 39 books on the topic of stress. Many theories of modern stress research can be attributed to his publications. His stress theory defines the biological underpinnings of stress and the related mechanisms of the human body. In the course of his research, Hans Selye named three phases of stress: the alarm phase, the resistance phase, and the exhaustion phase. He came to the conclusion that stress has an impact that starts in the blood, goes via the brain and affects the muscles, metabolism and hormones. Selye differentiated between negative stress ("distress") and positive stress ("eustress"), which are factors that are still valid today. "Dis" is a Greek prefix, representing "bad". This means that distress is a stress with negative physical, mental and psychological effects for the patient, caused by external pressure but also time pressure and pressure to perform imposed by one's self. "Eu" is also a Greek prefix, representing "good", "right" or "light". This shows how stress can certainly be a positive experience, when we enjoy doing something, but it becomes negative when tied to an unwanted burden. This gives rise to the conclusion that the way stress helps or hinders our state of health is generally dependent on how we assess stress factors ourselves. For example, preparations for a wedding are certainly seen as being positive stress, even though this stress is generally linked to excitement and strain. Likewise with people who engage in extreme sports who do so with passion and enthusiasm. Conversely, there are strains that are seen to be unpleasant and suffer under what is seen to be compulsion, and these are defined as negative stress that has a physical and mental impact. Therefore, as previously mentioned, the fact of whether stress has a positive or negative impact on the organism is dependent on whether we assess the stress factors as positive or negative, whether we feel capable of tackling the situation, and whether we have entered into this stress situation voluntarily. A reasonable amount of stress certainly helps to improve performance (in exams, for example), but long-term stress impairs our concentration, our attention, our ability to learn, and our memory. But prolonged stress can have fatal consequences, because the hormones secreted in stress situations are secreted too often. The body adapts to this, and one stress symptom after another develops. The healthy limit is then ultimately exceeded at some point. Stress hormones like cortisol weaken the immune response – exhaustion is possible, as is depression. Not knowing your stress limits is dangerous, and the following symptoms must be taken seriously.
Typical Stress Symptoms
Note: The symptoms listed below may be the result of prolonged exposure to stress, but they can also be attributed to other causes. It is therefore advisable to see medical advice should any of these symptoms occur. This list of symptoms is also not exhaustive.
Typical physical symptoms:
- Stomach and intestinal problems, for example diarrhea and constipation,
- Heart and circulatory problems,
- High blood pressure,
- Headaches, migraines,
- Loss of appetite,
- Tiredness, sleep loss,
- Difficulties concentrating, mental blocks, forgetfulness,
- Susceptibility to allergies,
- Frequent colds,
- Muscular tension,
- Sexual problems,
Typical mental symptoms:
- Listlessness, feeling of being downtrodden,
- Difficulty concentrating,
- Inner turmoil,
- Feeling of being overwhelmed,
- Risk of excessive alcohol consumption,
- Risk of drug use
What to do about negative stress?
Sadly, there is no universal medicinal panacea that can be used to counteract stress. However, patients do have at their disposal a range of seminars, workshops and self-help groups that can help them with stress management. But there is also much you can do yourself to help reduce or even eliminate stressful situations. Actively managing stress prevents you from being overwhelmed by it. Active stress management means concentrating on your actual goals and clearing things that don't do you any good out of the way. It can also be helpful to set up a daily schedule in which tasks are assigned to a day. At work, this means arranging tasks according to importance, and if possible, maybe even delegating them. Less important matters can be postponed or even ignored. Sometimes it's useful just to take a walk, have a day off, enjoy a relaxing weekend or a short vacation to recover your strength and escape from normal life. BEMER Physical Vascular Therapy can also be useful, and this will be addressed later. In family life, it is advisable to work together to examine stress factors and be aware of these factors. All too often, the partner who is not in employment is exposed to stressful situations and feels overwhelmed. Conclusion: If possible, the question of what to do about stress should not be answered alone. But if symptoms of stress do appear that are indicative of sickness, among them heart or circulatory problems or high blood pressure, medical advice should urgently be sought.