Rajat Khanna, 30, from Noida, went to work one day and fell unconscious after experiencing chest pain. His co-workers took him to a cardiologist, who on examination, determined that he had experienced a panic attack due to stress. After consultation with a clinical psychologist, he underwent Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Khanna is now on the road to recovery.
A few months ago, 29-year-old Maya Sharma from Delhi woke up with sweaty palms and palpitations. Her medical check-up did not reveal any clinical concern. Her physician then suggested she consult a psychologist. After a detailed examination, it was found that she was stressed out because of domestic issues: Taking care of her baby had disrupted her sleep patterns. After a few rounds of CBT, she says she is doing well.
Stress-related stories and its far-reaching effects are not uncommon. A 2015 study to examine the extent to which the working population perceives stress, as well as symptoms of burnout/exhaustion, depression and anxiety, found that 59 per cent of adults experienced high levels of perceived stress. The study led by researcher Lilian Wiegner indicated that the population seeking primary health care perceived higher levels of stress and symptoms of exhaustion, anxiety, and depression than the general population.
“Stress is something one faces when experiencing a change in priorities. Increased responsibility at work and home can lead to burnout.”
— Rakshitha Ghadge, psychologist at YourDOST, an online counselling and emotional wellness coach in Bengaluru.
Symptoms of stress
Our bodies cannot handle long-term chronic stress. “The indicators and physical signs of stress differ in every individual depending upon their health and the external environment,” says Ghadge.
Ghadge points out the following prominent physical signs of stress:
Sleep issues: Excessive stress can disrupt one’s sleep schedule. It is because the hormones responsible for stress are arousal hormones. They can keep one awake for a long time. Sleep issues can be solved by sleep hygiene practices, especially before bed.
Blurred eyesight: Stress triggers the release of multiple stress hormones, causing a wide variety of symptoms, including visual ones. Blurred eyesight, which includes symptoms like light-headedness, has many underlying causes, including stress.
Muscle tension or headaches: One’s muscles may tense up when one is stressed, and with time this can cause headaches, migraines, and musculoskeletal problems.
Stomach problems: Stress can physically manifest as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and constipation, among other things. It may impact the way food passes through one’s body and how well nutrients are absorbed by one’s intestines.
Heartburn: Heartburn and stress are related. It is still not clear which condition causes the other. If one has acid reflux, one may feel stressed and anxious due to the pain and discomfort. Overeating, drinking alcohol, smoking, and consuming junk food can lead to acid reflux.
Excessive sweating: When one encounters a stressful circumstance, the adrenal medulla (an area in the brain) releases adrenaline, which prepares the body for response. This increases the heart rate, sweating, blood pressure, and breathing rate.
Trembling, breathing issues, and fatigue: They can be the symptoms of a sudden onset of stress or the cause of a serious health condition. One should always consult a doctor if such problems persist for more than a week.
Stress or something else
“While it is true that identifying stress can be a misleading affair, individuals who understand and listen to their bodies and take a pause from time to time stay in touch with their physical and mental health,” says Puroitree Majumdar, senior clinical psychologist.
Stress can be good
According to Majumdar, eustress or good stress, which is healthy for an individual, keeps one motivated, and pushes one to finish a task with a positive form of pressure. Whereas the distress state is what negatively affects an individual by manifesting in the form of severe burnout, fear, and hostility when a task is not completed.
Dr Parth Nagda, consultant psychiatrist at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital in Navi Mumbai, says that physical symptoms of stress can be divided into three major parts
- Headache and tiredness: They are major symptoms of stress. One can have mild to severe headache and feeling of tiredness.
- Sleeping and eating problem: sleeping pattern gets disturbed and one starts eating less or in excess.
- Gastrointestinal disturbance: It results in acidity, constipation, or diarrhoea.
- Extreme stress can result in panic attacks, chest pain, palpitations, and shivering. It can disturb the menstrual cycle in women.
Keeping stress at bay
Ghadge suggests that individuals do a self-check for symptoms, unhealthy coping mechanisms (eating habits, drinking, smoking) and their intensity.
She recommends engaging in stress-relieving activities like breathing exercises, yoga, or meditation.
Having ‘me time’ is a must, so it is important to always take time out for ourselves. Here is a validated 4-2-1 self-care routine one can follow:
Four times a week for 15-20 minutes
Two times a month for 1-2 hours
Once a month for 2-4 hours
End the day with gratitude. It is ideal to maintain a gratitude journal.
Strategies to cope
Majumdar adds that long-term stress affects one’s immune system. If one exhibits any of the physical symptoms mentioned earlier, it is time to change one’s lifestyle and use MTW strategies to cope with stress.
Moving Strategies: Exercising and other physical activities like walking and dancing produce endorphins, a chemical in the brain that acts as natural painkillers and improves the ability to sleep, which reduces stress. One can practise relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi or manage stress at the primary level. Regular exercise can boost one’s mood and help keep negative thoughts at bay.
Talking Strategies: Talking about one’s problems help one to let go of unwanted thoughts or come up with a plan to deal with them. Talking with family and friends can help one understand the problem and ways to tackle it. Keeping a good sense of humour also keeps stress away.
Writing Strategies: It is always a good idea to jot down one’s thoughts and feelings from time to time and keep a check on them. It can be in the form of a journal, writing goals, lyrics or even poetry. It helps one to express one’s thoughts and come up with better coping strategies.
Ways to manage
According to Nagda, stress is common, but when it affects our social, occupational, and personal lives, it needs to be treated. The following methods can be helpful for mild stress:
- Maintaining a timetable for daily activities
- Following a consistent sleeping and eating routine
- Exercising regularly
- Practising yoga and meditation
- Interacting with friends and family
- Following a hobby to de-stress oneself
If the above methods do not help, one can try counselling, where counsellors will help with CBT, adds Nagda.
One should visit a psychiatrist if the stress is severe. The psychiatrist will prescribe medication for a few months and gradually reduce the dosage.