Is stress causing damage to your body?

How often does someone ask you how you are, and you reply “fine”? OK, so sometimes “how are you” is used as a stock form of greeting, and people would be quite taken aback if you told them how you actually feel, but sometimes this habit of saying we’re fine can actually backfire, as it encourages us to ignore or tune away from what our bodies are telling us.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is stress ballmentally. You may find you get irritable, anxious or experience low self esteem; find that you worry constantly and have difficulty switching off; you may find that you experience headaches, stomach or bladder problems and muscle tension and pain. Chronic stress can lead to conditions like IBS and other digestive problems, heart disease, depression, autoimmune diseases, sleep problems, and skin conditions such as eczema.

Often we do nothing about it because we don’t think there is anything we can do… mortgages and other financial commitments need to be met so we can’t just walk out of stressful jobs; children don’t come with batteries that can be removed to allow us some down time; and let’s face it, life does have this habit of taking an unexpected turn just when we feel least able to cope with it.

Professor Cary Cooper, an occupational health expert at the University of Lancaster says that “in life, there’s always a solution to a problem, not taking control of the situation and doing nothing will only make your problems worse.” So taking control is crucial.  If you can’t easily tackle the causes of your stress, you can do something to help manage the symptoms.  And taking control is in itself empowering.  So sit down and figure out what you want to do:

  •  Exercise can help to reduce some of the emotional intensity you are feeling, and classes like Tai Chi and yoga are known to be good for helping to calm and clear the mind
  • Some me time can be really beneficial – you could curl up with a good book (and not feel guilty that you could be doing something else!) or book yourself in for a regular massage (and as a Shiatsu therapist I would be most remiss if I didn’t point out how beneficial Shiatsu is for relaxation)
  • Be positive – this can be difficult for those who are naturally pessimistic, but at the end of each day write down three things that went well or that you are grateful for
  • Accept the things you cannot change. There is no point expending effort on things that you cannot influence; assess where you can create change and focus your efforts there

And yes, I hear you. It is much easier said than done. But don’t bottle it up and try to soldier on alone. With 47% of Britons reporting that they feel stressed every day, according to a recent Mental Health Foundation report, you are not alone, so talk to someone, you may be surprised at how many people really understand how you feel.