All of us experience stress at some point and it comes in many different forms. The current coronavirus pandemic has seen a great increase in people’s stress levels as uncertainty about the future is a huge concern for us all. The gradual easing of lockdown restrictions can create more opportunities for a new, normal life but on the other hand, can cause increased anxiety and have a negative effect on our mental wellbeing. Therefore, it is essential that we have a range of stress relief strategies we can call upon whenever situations start to overwhelm us.
Stress, in a nutshell, is the extra force which makes your blood pump faster and prepares your body to cope with danger. But it is also the silent saboteur of your physical and mental health. When you are stressed or anxious, your body produces hormones that cause your blood sugar levels to rise. For those already struggling to keep their blood glucose stable, this is not good. But learning to recognise stress and put your stress-busting strategies in place is a massive step towards successfully managing type-2 diabetes.
When you experience fear, worry or anxiety a chemical chain reaction takes place. The area in your brain called the hypothalamus shoots a signal to the adrenal glands which are at the top of the kidneys. Their function is to release hormones called norepinephrine and epinephrine (adrenaline, as we know it best) into the bloodstream.
These are the hormones that help give you the energy to, for example, run like the clappers, at those sudden necessary moments. Their presence gives a message to the adrenal gland to release glucose stored in various organs, which results in a high level of glucose hitting the bloodstream very quickly.
Your heart-rate speeds up; airways and blood vessels widen; blood pressure rises and muscles tense ready to move. But in all probability you may not even need to get up from your chair. So what can you do to avoid this process?
We all experience stress in our lives, and it covers a wide spectrum of emotions.
There is acute stress, emotional stress and chronic stress, and we need to look at all these factors:
This arises from emotions such as the wish to perform well at work, or do well in competitive hobbies and sports. This is not necessarily a bad form of stress, as it helps with personal development and achievement. There is also another type of acute stress, often caused by the pressures of everyday life. An overload of work can trigger stress, as can family and relationship worries, or concerns about health. This kind of stress is unpleasant and can certainly have the effect of destabilising blood sugar.
This also comes under the heading of ‘acute’ and is often made up of several negative states of emotion running together. The main ones are anxiety, depression, frustration and anger. If these emotions remain with you for more than a short period of time, they can begin to present themselves in the form of physical conditions. Issues such as gastric reflux, heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, diarrhoea, migraine and frequent bouts of tonsillitis are all well-known by-products of stress.
This is an extremely debilitating condition, which means it can make you very weak. It is often brought on over many years of having to cope with a desperate situation, such as an abusive marriage, living with war, famine, poverty, or any situation that appears to have little chance of resolution.
A traumatic event can also trigger chronic stress, sometimes in the form of post-traumatic stress syndrome. It can apply to people who have been caught up in natural disaster, witnessed horrendous situations, survived a terrorist attack, or been involved in a serious accident.
It can also be the result of early childhood trauma. The stress itself comes about due to living with recurring memories, or unrelenting misery over a long period of time.
Colour Your Feelings of Stress
A lot can be done to ease the symptoms of both acute and chronic stress. Sometimes professional help is needed, but often self-help will prove extremely effective. Firstly, it is important to recognise your stress triggers. Try thinking of your state of mind as a thermometer.
Imagine it as cool blue when you are relaxed and untroubled, but if you become slightly anxious or uptight it will change to light pink. Should you become more agitated it will turn to bright pink and if you get very panicky it will become bright red.
It is a good idea to keep a record of your feelings and at the same time, if you suffer from diabetes, check your blood glucose readings during the various levels of stress.
Yoga and Meditation
There are various ways of learning to relax and avoid the damaging effects of stress. Joining a yoga class is a good example. Try to find one that is not too advanced and focuses on gentle asanas (exercises) along with meditation.
You could download a meditation app to your tablet or smart phone. This is a very easy and effective way to learn meditation because you can fit it into any short spells of time you have available. Perhaps during your lunch break at work, pop on your earphones, sit comfortably and listen. Headspace is a good example of a mediation app, but others are also available.
There are other techniques to help you relax and unwind. Here is one example:
- Decide on a place where you can relax. It may be your bedroom, or somewhere you won’t be disturbed by the TV, phones and doorbells ringing. Now, sit comfortably or lie down.
- Listen to your breathing for a minute. Then, consciously begin to deepen your breathing as you slowly count to four on each intake of breath. Let the breath out slowly, and then count again as you breathe in. Do this six times. As you concentrate on counting, let other thoughts fade into the background.
- Next, bring tension into all of your muscles, in turn, and then relax. Begin at your feet by flexing them upward as hard as you can, then relax. Then your calf muscles; tighten them and relax. Work your way upwards through the whole of your body, finishing with your face.
- Now, tightly screw up your face into a grimace. Make the scariest expression you can imagine and stick out your tongue. Count to six then release. Then, roll your eyes, first to the right, as far as possible, then to the left, then all the way round.
- Finally, tense the whole of your body at the same time. Count to six then relax and feel the tension draining away.
- Now sit quietly with your eyes closed. All your tension should be gone. Enjoy it, and how relaxed you feel. You should find this technique is very effective and it will get better the more times you use it.
Finally we would like to emphasise that managing stress is just one of the ways to improve your mental health & well-being.
You may like to visit the website of the Mental Health Foundation for more help and advice regarding stress.
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