What is Stress

Stress can be a very negative but yet very healthy thing to experience. It actually means a force impinging on the individual, which tends to strain or cause harm to the body. Stress is a normal part of life that can help us learn and grow. Conversely, ongoing stress can cause us significant problems. Surveys have shown that 60% of the population of the Western countries believes that they are under a great deal of stress at least once per week.

Stress can lead to the release of powerful neurochemicals and hormones that prepare us for action (to fight or flight). If we don’t take action, which the physiological activity of the hormones and compounds encourage, the stress response can lead to health problems. Prolonged, uninterrupted, unexpected, and unmanageable stresses are the most damaging types of stress.

Some examples of different kinds of stress includes: chemical stress and environmental stress caused by environmental pollution or toxic chemicals; emotional stress such as anger, depression, fear, frustration, sadness, betrayal, bereavement; mental stress including high work responsibility, long hours and perfectionism; nutritional stress due to nutritional deficiency, fat excess, or food allergies; physical stress includes hard labor, birth and competitive exercise; traumatic stress include infection, injury, burns, surgery and extreme temperatures and psycho-spiritual stress include relationship pressures, financial pressures, career pressures, issues of life goals and issues with spiritual enlightenment.

There is some speculation that an overactive stress response to every life can start when young. Early separation from mother can lead to altered stress responses and depression later in life. The stresses of the mother can affect the stress response of the fetus, and perhaps predispose the child to psychiatric illness later in life.

Symptoms of stress

Symptoms of stress may present differently in different people, and many may not even be aware of the high stress they face. When stress is encountered and perceived of as negative, reactions may become more emotional or reflect in moods: irritability, frustrations, guilt and anger; depression, sadness and weeping and overall confusion.

Physical reactions are common- especially in the initial stages or in acute physical stress. The “fight or flight” (alarm) response causes the release of the catecholamine neurotransmitters adrenaline, noradrenaline and the steroid hormone cortisol from the adrenal glands. These hormones direct blood toward the muscles and limbs in order permit an individual to fight or flee. In addition, the pupils of the eyes dilate and alertness increases. Long term stress can create disharmony in the body with chronic increases of the levels catecholamines and cortisol. This can decrease the body’s resistance to disease, especially infectious illness.

Lifestyle and Dietary Modifications

Nutritional factors play an important role in how we respond to stress. A healthy diet that includes proper nutrients, protein and fibre while having high quality fats can promote a good mental outlook and strong functioning body to help us deal with the challenges that we face. Foods from plants are especially useful in that they contain high amounts of antioxidants. A good rule of thumb when selecting fruits and vegetables is to a include a range of colours: green (light and dark) which is abundant in the lettuce type vegetables as well as cabbage family plants; red as in red capsicums and apples, orange as in carrots and many types of squash, white or yellow for onion, garlic and bananas, and blue or purple for blueberries, and eggplant. It is also important to reduce the amount of pesticides by purchasing organic foods whenever possible. And last but not least, it is very important to lower refined sugar consumption. Sugar alone act as a stressor to the body; especially when combined with caffeine.

While cigarette smokers often describe their habit as relaxing, smoking is associated with increased stress levels, and stopping the habit eventually results in reduced feelings of stress. Drinking alcohol can reduce feelings of stress, but using alcohol regularly in response to chronic or repetitive stress can lead to an unhealthy dependency. Many of our ways in dealing with stress — drugs, pain medicines, alcohol, smoking, and eating — actually are counterproductive in that they can worsen the stress and can make us more sensitive to further stress.

Exercise has long been thought to have potential benefits to mental health and stress reduction; however, exercise can also be stressful when it is intense or competitive.

Stress can be best managed by regular exercise, relaxation techniques, structured time outs, and learning new coping strategies to create predictability in our lives. Mind-body medicine is a branch of healing that focuses on the role of thoughts and emotions on physical health. Many techniques used in this healing system, including biofeedback, relaxation training, tai chi, yoga, and meditation, affect the nervous system in ways that could help people cope with stress. Meditation, practiced for spiritual reasons, for relaxation, or as part of the treatment of a disease, has been helpful for stress reduction. The management of stress depends mainly on the willingness of a person to make the changes necessary for a healthy lifestyle.

Nutritional Factors Shown to be Beneficial

Multiple Vitamin/Mineral formula

For individuals under significant stress or for those whose lifestyles do not promote healthy habits a multivitamin/mineral formula is essential. By including a range of micronutrients, especially Vitamin C, B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, and zinc the negative reactions to stress may be reduced.
Dose: ranges from

Vitamin B complex

B vitamins function as cofactors in energy producing reactions, detoxification reactions and also in the formation of some neurotransmitters.
Dose: 50 mg of B complex a day

Omega 3 Fish Oils

Omega 3 fatty acids may become deficient when under chronic stress. One of the fatty acids found ion fish oil in particular has a direct function on brain health and may help with a negative stress response.
Dose: 2-6 grams a day

Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus)

Also called Siberian Ginseng, eleuthero is an adaptogen, which is thought to increase the body’s resistance to stress, and to generally enhance physical and mental functioning.
Dose: 300- 400 mg a day of the standardized extract

Rhodiola rosea

Rhodiola has specific functions in the brain to help balance normal neurotransmitters, increase energy and mental performance. It is also adaptogenic.
Dose: 300- 600 mg a day of the standardized extract

Ashwagandha (Withania somifera)

The ayuvedic herb ashwagandha may be helpful for reducing the effects of stress, including chronic psychological stress. It is also adaptogenic.
Dose: 300- 600 mg of the standardized extract

Adrenal Glandular extracts

Extracts of the adrenal gland can offer a diversity of hormones and hormone related substances in a natural, non-toxic quantity for therapeutic, rejuvenative and preventive health care, and the adrenal gland has a specific activity in the stress response.
Dose: 100 mg twice a day

Diagnosis and Pharmaceutical Interventions

Although there is no medical diagnosis for stress, situations and other factors may be evaluated for the ‘stress quotient’, a factor that can give clues about a person’s relative risk to having health problems as a result of too mush stress. An example of one such stress quotient is via the Holmes stress scale.

Pharmaceutical Medications

When stressful situations and lifestyle factors inhibit normal day to day functioning, some medications may be recommended; most notable are the antidepressant medications. There are several different kinds. Serotonin Selective Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) – the most commonly prescribed antidepressants. These include: Citalopram (Celapram), Fluoxetine (Prozac), Paroxetine (Aropax), Sertraline (Zoloft). These medications increase the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, which elevates mood and energy. These medications at times can increase the level of serotonin so much that a serotonin syndrome presents, especially when used in conjunction with other medications that act in a similar fashion, or with the use of other mind altering drugs. The symptoms of the serotonin syndrome include tremor, changes in mental affect and cognition. In addition SSRI’s can cause irritation and bleeding of the stomach and gastrointestinal tract, and cause lower libido as a sexual side effect. The second most common class of medications prescribed is tricylic antidepressants. These include: Amitriptyline (Amitrip), Clomipramine (Clopress), and Imipramine (Tofranil). Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) are rarely prescribed. They include Tranylcypromine (Parnate). Some other types of medication that may be used are Bupropion (Zyban), and Venlafaxine (Efexor).

A host of potential side-effects (or symptoms of withdrawal) accompany the use of many if not all of these drugs. Some of the most serious of these are: anxiety, asthenia – loss of bodily strength, blurred vision, constipation , decreased ability to think clearly, development of drug dependency, development or worsening of suicidal tendencies, dizziness, dry mouth, insomnia , loss of libido and other sexual side effects, nausea, nervousness, rash , somnolence – sleepiness or a lack of energy and activity, and sustained increase in blood pressure (hypertension).

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