Stress is an emotional or physical response to events that make you feel threatened or upset your balance in some way. When you sense danger, whether it’s real or imagined, the body's defences kick into high gear in a rapid. This automatic process is known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction, so you either try to get away and avoid the stress or fight it. When you’re constantly running in emergency mode, your mind and body pay the price.
Cognitive symptoms of Stress:
* Memory problems
* Inability to concentrate
* Poor judgement
* Seeing only the negative
* Anxious or racing thoughts
* Constant worrying
Emotional symptoms of Stress:
* Irritability or a short temper
* Agitation, inability to relax
* Feeling overwhelmed
* Sense of loneliness and isolation
* Depression or general unhappiness
* Excessive emotion & crying at small irritations
Physical symptoms of Stress:
* Aches and pains
* Diarrhoea or constipation
* Nausea, dizziness
* Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
* Loss of sex drive
* Frequent colds
* Permanently tired even after sleep
Behavioural symptoms of Stress:
* Eating more or less
* Sleeping too much or too little
* Isolating yourself from others
* Lack of interest in anything
* Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
* Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
* Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)
There appears to be a complex relationship between stressful situations, our mind and body's reaction to stress and the onset of Clinical Depression. It is clear that some people develop depression after a stressful event in their lives. Events such as the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, financial problems or the end of a relationship are often negative and traumatic, they cause a huge amount of stress for many people.
Stress can also occur as the result of a more positive event like getting married, moving to a new area, or starting a new job. It is not uncommon for either a positive or negative event to become a crisis that precedes the development of Clinical Depression.
Whether a stressful event itself can actually cause a person to become depressed is not fully known. There are times when we all must struggle with very painful situations in our lives. More often than not, these changes do not result in a person becoming clinically depressed. In fact, people become depressed sometimes even when there is little or no stress in their lives and everything seems to be going very well. People are different and there is no single stressful event which will cause depression to develop in every person. The same type of stressor may lead to depression in one person but have no effect on another.
A stressful event such as a job loss or the death of a loved one is more likely to come before a first or second depressive episode. After that, further episodes may develop spontaneously. It is not certain why stress may lead to depression in this way. However, researchers have theorised an explanation called the "kindling effect," or "kindling-sensitisation hypothesis." This theory surmises that initial depressive episodes spark changes in the brain's chemistry and limbic system that make it more prone to developing future episodes of depression. This may be compared to the use of kindling wood to spark the flames of a campfire. Since early episodes of depression make a person more sensitive to developing depression, even small stressors can lead to it later.
Some people may become depressed as a result of having to struggle with chronic stress. These constant difficulties may come in the form of having to juggle multiple roles at home and work, making major changes in lifestyle, being in an abusive environment, etc. They may also come with important and normal transitions in life, such as late adolescence and early adulthood when many people separate from their families to establish their own independence.
Middle age may require adjustment to changes in fertility and virility, children leaving the home, concern about job advancement, and a re-evaluation of accomplishments in life. Retirement is another time of major change as some people struggle with a reduction of position and finances. If a person is under continuous stress, a single difficult event may be more likely to induce a depressive episode.
Not all Stress is caused by external factors. Stress can also be self-generated by:
* Inability to accept uncertainty
* Negative self-talk
* Unrealistic expectations
* Lack of assertiveness
Things that influence your stress tolerance level:
* Your support network – A strong network of supportive friends and family members is an enormous buffer against life’s stressors. On the flip side, the lonelier and more isolated you are, the greater your vulnerability to stress.
* Your sense of control – If you have confidence in yourself and your ability to influence events and persevere through challenges, it’s easier to take stress in stride. People who are vulnerable to stress tend to feel like things are out of their control.
* Your attitude and outlook – Stress-hardy people have an optimistic attitude. They tend to embrace challenges, have a strong sense of humour, accept that change is a part of life, and believe in a higher power or purpose.
* Your ability to deal with your emotions. You’re extremely vulnerable to stress if you don’t know how to calm and soothe yourself when you’re feeling sad, angry, or afraid. The ability to bring your emotions into balance helps you bounce back from adversity.
* Your knowledge and preparation – The more you know about a stressful situation, including how long it will last and what to expect, the easier it is to cope. For example, if you go into surgery with a realistic picture of what to expect post-op, a painful recovery will be less traumatic than if you were expecting to bounce back immediately.
Stress can be managed and it is important to create and maintain healthy ways of coping with stressful situations, this can make all the difference to your relationships, working life, health and emotional well-being.
The Mental Health Foundation has some more tips about managing stress