Are you suffering from chronic stress?
In this article, Dr Houda Ounnas, GP (specialising in mental health), outlines symptoms to look out for, 5 tips on how to deal with chronic stress and when you should see a doctor.
What is stress?
Stress is the body’s natural reaction to a threat in the form of a fight or flight response. The hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of the brain, sets off an alarm system through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals. The adrenal glands, located on top of the kidneys, are prompted to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. These are called the stress hormones.
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases the amount of sugar (glucose) in the bloodstream and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.
Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with the regions of the brain that control emotions.
What is the difference between stress and chronic stress?
Rare or occasional bouts of stress are known as acute stress. However, if you are living in a constant state of stress, this can become chronic stress. This is a big problem because you will spend too much time in survival mode with many necessary body functions being shut off or slowed down. If you are experiencing constant stress for more than 6 weeks, then it is officially classified as chronic stress.
What are the main symptoms of chronic stress?
- Digestive symptoms such as IBS and chronic constipation
- Mood changes, leaning towards irritability, anger or anxiety
- Unpredictable metabolism
- Difficulty losing weight as your body clings on to the fat in case you go into starvation mode
- Fatigue and TATT (Tired all the time syndrome)
- Cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and possibly early heart disease
How many people in the UK suffer from chronic stress?
There are no specific statistics for the number of people that suffer from chronic stress. However, there are statistics form the Health and Safety Executive which show that 46% of long term work absences in the UK are caused by stress.
In 2020, a total of 828,000 workers in the UK reported to be suffering from stress, anxiety or depression from work-related issues alone. It’s estimated that these numbers have increased due to the Covid19 pandemic.
In your professional opinion, has the number of people suffering from stress increased since COVID19?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes. It is impossible to estimate at this stage as there are no statistics yet. However, the United Nations have warned that even when the pandemic comes to an end in terms of the actual infection, the mental health effects are likely to continue. This includes stress, anxiety, depression and all that may come under the mental health umbrella.
Top 5 tips for dealing with chronic stress and when to see a doctor.
See a doctor if stress overstays it’s welcome. By definition, if stress hasn’t calmed down after 6 weeks, it is chronic stress and you should see a specialist. However, in my professional opinion, I think you should see the doctor as soon as you feel overwhelmed by stress. Acute stress is still a problem that needs to be dealt with and a helpful, empathetic doctor will be able to guide you early on to avoid it becoming chronic stress.
5 tips for dealing with chronic or overwhelming stress:
- See the doctor as soon as you feel overwhelmed or something is not right. They can investigate the physical symptoms, diagnose the cause and make helpful suggestions on how to overcome stress.
- Schedule some time for relaxation. Switch off your phone so you can’t check emails or social media etc.
- Do not mask the symptoms with quick fix medications such as laxatives, energy bars or sleeping pills. These are all ok as short term solutions, but not answer in the long run. The chronic stress is the problem and it needs to go!
- Consider self-help stress relief methods and good mental health habits such as meditation, breathing exercises, journaling, or connecting with nature.
- See a counsellor or consider therapy if stress is affecting your mental health or causing anxiety, depression or relationship problems.
Dr Houda Ounnas offers private GP appointments at 9 Harley Street. For more information, visit Dr Houda Ounnas.
To arrange an appointment phone 020 079 2100