Are you feeling the stress?
One of the most debilitating conditions in modern society, toxic stress contributes to all kinds of ailments but, as anna coogan points out, once you identify the causes, you can start to do something about it
Identifying the symptoms of stress is the first step to recovering our balance in life, believes Dr Harry Barry, a director of Aware, the depression support organisation, and author of the new book, Flagging Stress: Toxic Stress and How To Avoid It.
"In ancient times, human beings were generally fit and active, and this helped 'burn off' symptoms of stress," says Dr Barry.
"In modern times, however, many of us do not exercise, and our response to stress is to overeat, drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes -- all of which are detrimental to our physical and mental well-being," he says.
He adds: "Irrespective of our capacity to cope with stress, most of us, during certain times in our lives, will feel that our world is 'falling in' and will end up battling the host of negative and unhealthy consequences which follow."
So whether, like Cheryl Cole, it's work which has you stressed or, like Cameron Diaz (who is reportedly going through a break-up), it is a relationship which is triggering anxiety, recognising the symptoms of stress instead of just continuing to plough through can help alert us to what changes we need to make in our lives to help us de-stress and get back on an even keel.
Research into stress has identified four personality types:
Type A Personality is associated with those who are competitive, aggressive, impulsive, impatient and goal-oriented, and put themselves and those around them under considerable pressure to deliver targets.
Men seem to be more at risk if they have this personality type -- perhaps because they are more likely to be aggressive and angry in their behavioural responses to stress.
Type B Personality lies at the other end of the scale and is associated with people who are less goal-oriented, calmer in response to problems, less aggressive and impulsive, and less likely to engage in unhealthy activities such as driving aggressively, smoking or drinking.
This group handle stress well and as a result are less inclined to suffer symptoms of toxic stress.
Type C Personality is associated with people who are extremely passive and unassertive. They find it difficult to express their emotions, feelings or needs to others. People with type C personality have been described as extremely cooperative, patient and accepting.
They seldom display anger or excitement and will rigidly control their facial expressions; they are usually highly introverted. These individuals suppress their feelings and do not stand up for themselves; as a result, they suffer more from stress and depression.
Type D Personality is associated with those who experience intense emotional distress, in social situations for example, but whose response is to lock it up inside themselves. They can be described as gloomy, anxious and socially inept.
Type D behaviour is characterised by a tendency to avoid social contact with others. There is evidence that type D personality is associated with depressive and anxiety symptoms, post-traumatic stress disorder, social phobia and panic disorder. As is the case with type A personalities, when exposed to stress, this group is more at risk of heart disease.
Beating Stress: A Holistic Approach
Lifestyle plays a major role in the treatment and prevention of chronic stress. Research continues to emphasise the importance of exercise and, while what form of exercise is most beneficial, how often, and for how long, are questions still exercising top research minds, the general consensus is as follows:
•Thirty minutes of brisk exercise, preferably three to five times a week, is ideal.
•Longer periods of exercise do not confer extra benefits.
•Any form of exercise -- walking, jogging, weightlifting, swimming -- is equally effective.
•Creative exercise, such as dancing or water aerobics, is also effective and has the benefit of an extra social dimension.
•Staying close to nature (visiting the country or a beach) is often overlooked in relation to preventing and treating toxic stress.
eat right, feel right
Diet is also important, as the brain is dependent on proper nutrition to function. A balanced diet when we are stressed can improve how we feel, and the following are recommended:
•A sensible mix of fresh fish (particularly oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna), eggs (especially free-range), meat, vegetables, cereals, nuts, flaxseeds and oils, grains and fruits.
•Prepare your own food, and avoid fast food and highly processed food as much as possible.
•Eat, even when you are very stressed -- the brain cannot run without fuel.
•Avoid high-stimulant drinks such as coffee and Coke, which many with stress and anxiety use in abundance.
•Avoid using food as a 'crutch' when stressed or anxious.
•Alternative therapies such as relaxation exercises, yoga, Pilates and mindfulness are of proven benefit in treating toxic stress.
Flagging Stress: Toxic Stress and How To Avoid It, by Dr Harry Barry, published by Liberties Press, €12.99