Stress Revision

I continue to be extremely busy on placement within the community, working alongside the Home-Based Treatment Team (formerly called the Crisis Team). This week I also spent two days with the Rapid Assessment Team at two separate local hospitals. The teams deal with mentally ill people who present at Accident and Emergency, and also assess patients who are in hospital already (usually with physical problems), but are also presenting with signs of possible mental illness. Many of the A & E attendees are referred to the Home-Based Treatment Team where I am presently working, and the people are then supported in the community through daily home visits.

a & e

Aside from this, I am still busy revising for my forthcoming exam which takes place towards the end of September. At the moment I am revising stress, and in order to help me clarify my learning (like last week with the diabetes topic), I thought that I would try to rewrite some of the main facts that I have learnt.

Long-term Stress and the Effects upon the Body

Short-term positive stress, sometimes known as eustress, can be beneficial, and can help us to achieve things, such as passing an exam! Long term stress, in contrast, is negative and distressing to the individual’s body and their mind.

Short-term stress can produce temporary beneficial changes, such as raised blood pressure and raised blood glucose, and the body’s homeostasis is quickly regained. Long term stress also produces the same increases, as well as a weakened immune system. The body’s homeostatic levels however, are eventually re-set at a much higher level, and the resulting consequences can sometimes be serious illness, such as myocardial infarction and cancers.

When faced with stressful circumstances, the brain’s hypothalamus causes the body to go into fight or flight mode. This stimulates the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, which then stimulates the adrenal medulla to release adrenaline. The adrenaline causes the heart rate to increase and the blood pressure goes up. If the stress is short-lived, as in healthy individuals, the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system will eventually take over, and a state of relaxation and calm will once again return. In long-term stress however, the heightened, and potentially damaging, effects of the sympathetic branch are maintained by the release of several hormones.

fight or flight

Stimulated by the hypothalamus, Corticotrophin Releasing Hormone (CRH) stimulates the production of cortisol, which leads to loss of appetite and loss of libido. It also causes a reduction in the immune system, the slow healing of wounds, muscle wastage, loss of bone mass and the breakdown of glycogen to glucose, thus increasing blood glucose levels. The CRH also stimulates the release of AdrenoCorticoTrophic Hormone (ACTH). ACTH stimulates the adrenal medulla to produce aldosterone and cortisol. The aldosterone stimulates the kidneys to retain sodium, which then attracts water, and so the blood volume and blood pressure therefore increase. High blood pressure (hypertension) is associated with problems such as stroke, heart disease and diabetes. Growth Hormone is also released, and this breaks down fat and converts glycogen to glucose. Thyroid Hormone is additionally released, and this stimulates Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). TSH increases the speed of all bodily reactions, including the metabolic rate, thus increasing the chances of weight loss.

blood pressure

Stressed individuals frequently experience poor sleep, and this inability to rest and recuperate, sadly and ironically, enhances the stresses. Negative coping strategies such as alcohol and drug misuse can make the problem worse, as can poor diet and lack of exercise. Sleep, when achieved, stimulates the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, which in turn reduces the adrenaline. Sleep is therefore a great healer in recovering from stress.

Lack of sleep and stress can be antecedents to anxiety and depression. Concentration is diminished or lost, and the small things in life can soon start to feel like huge mountains. Other complications of stress can be migraine, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, ulcers and gastritis.

snoopy sleeping

Needless to say, stress is not good for our working lives either. The Health and Safety Executive (2012) stated that 10.4 million working days were lost through stress, while the Labour Force Survey (2012) found that females generally experienced higher working stress, and that the age group of 35–44 had the highest amounts of individuals affected. This could perhaps be on account of the females’ additional responsibilities such as children, household chores, and possibly caring for elderly parents.

Stress is clearly a potentially negative force, and one that can damage both our bodies and our minds.


A female perspective of STRESS


Stress is an extremely common modern day occurrence, and is probably often due to the vast amounts of things that we try to fit into our ever increasing busy lifestyles. Just 40-50 years ago, people generally seemed to lead more relaxed and less hectic everyday lives. The reason for the reduced pressure, I believe, is that most females still stayed at home and raised a family, while their male partners went out to work and provided an income. Women would occupy themselves with childcare and domestic tasks, taking the time to cook meals from scratch, and to bake pies, cakes and even bread for the family. This existence almost sounds like a golden age, and yet it hides a hidden frustration and boredom that was experienced by many females. The women’s dissatisfaction, of course, was the need to obtain equality to their male counterparts; but, ironically, by drastically changing and increasing their opportunities, a female generation emerged who wanted to have it all, and yet found that the price was an increasing amount of stress.

images64OMCKOZThe new generation of women gained academic qualifications and established careers for themselves. They still married and had children, but the task of the main child-care was often assigned to a grandparent, a professional nanny or nursery. This generation of career women had to pick up the child-care at the end of the day, when they were feeling tired and really needed to relax and unwind, and yet there was still a meal to cook, clothes to wash, a house to keep clean and the children to entertain, bathe, feed and eventually put to bed. It would be nice to think that husbands and fathers would have shared in these chores, but for many years, these changes happened far too slowly, and it is only now that the majority of fathers have started to share and help their partners, with the children and the household tasks.

images3MOEPE1NThere will always have been exceptions to these rules, and I know that as I write, there are now many house husbands that have taken over the traditional female role. Whatever the family circumstances, however, contemporary life can be incredibly stressful. As well as males and females having more equal roles, we generally seem to have higher expectations of what we require from our lifestyles. Children often have many clubs after school and it is the parent’s job to transport them to and fro’. Parents will have social lives of their own, both separately and together. They will plan foreign holidays a couple of times each year, and they will regularly change their cars and move to bigger and better homes. The homes will be equipped with an array of the latest technology, which will be used to help the family to ‘relax’. What often happens however, is that the children fight over a Playstation game, while the adults chat over social media or generally surf the web. When bedtime comes, it is hard to switch off and to obtain a relaxed sleep mode. Less people read books to help them to get to sleep, and less people enjoy books as a way of generally relaxing as a hobby. People often expect far too much from their modern existences, and in ensuring that they obtain these ‘necessities’, they self-impose varying degrees of pressure, and they often forget about the simple, and often free, things in life.

imagesWBWX1H7MTo minimise stress, I believe that we should always strive to achieve a healthy work-life balance. While the children are young, it is surely acceptable for one partner to stay at home for a few years, or to work part-time hours. Perhaps even both partners can work part-time to obtain the equivalent income of a full-time wage.

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Perhaps it may not be possible to have expensive holidays, new cars and gadgets, but materialistic belongings are not guaranteed to make us happy. Instead families and couples can enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the UK, and can sample the simplicity of camping and caravanning holidays. Weekends can be spent walking and picnicking in the countryside. It is fun and cheap to take along a rucksack with some sandwiches, fruit and a flask. On wetter and colder days, it is also great fun, and really educational, to visit one of the UK’s historic National Trust properties, gardens and parklands. An annual ticket is extremely reasonable, and it then gets you into the properties completely free of charge.

images6HXJTIXYInstead of focussing upon computer access and borrowing DVDs, we should start to sample books from our local libraries, or could even cheaply purchase reasonable used paperbacks from charity shops and various on-line booksellers. Reading slows down our brains and makes us concentrate and focus, and in so doing, we can acquire a wealth of knowledge, enjoyment, relaxation and stimulation. I also personally find that having dogs can be particularly good for our stress levels. Stroking a dog can be hugely therapeutic, and walking with a dog is excellent for both body and mind, as the event allows us to connect with the outdoor green environment, as well as other dogs and their owners. All forms of exercise are excellent for combating stress, as they make the body release beneficial endorphins, which lift and improve the mood. In times of stress, we often do not feel like exercising, but if we push ourselves and make the effort, the benefits will usually be very much self-evident.

basset on lead

Finally, I am a huge believer in the benefits of a healthy diet. It may not always be possible to cook meals from scratch, but when we can, they are usually cheaper and healthier. Whenever we shop, it is better to choose wholegrain bread, pasta, rice and cereals, and we should always strive to include our daily five portions of fruit and vegetables. A large percentage of people do not, but five portions is really not that difficult to achieve! You could have a glass of orange juice with breakfast, a banana mid-morning, some salad and an apple at lunch time, and then two portions of vegetables with your main meal, not including potatoes (and which actually equates to six portions).

fruit and veg  images1PLA2ZUT

In addition to food, we need to pay attention to our fluid intake, and about 2 litres of water daily is roughly about right. It is worth remembering that much water can be gained from our diet. Foods high in water include porridge, soup, fruit, vegetables, custard and yoghurt, etc. Drinking water can be taken directly from the tap, in squash, herbal teas, juices, milk, and tea and coffee to some extent. The latter two are diuretics and therefore make us pass more urine, hence not hydrating us as effectively as the other options. It is therefore best to drink tea and coffee in moderation, and of course, they contain caffeine. Too much caffeine can make us feel shaky and we can experience palpitations. In short, caffeine is likely to exacerbate our stress levels.

untitled (3)If we all looked after our bodies and achieved a balanced lifestyle of work, relaxation and leisure time, I believe we could eliminate the modern malaise of experiencing too much bad and damaging stress. Don’t forget, a little stress can be a good thing, and can often help us to achieve our goals. Too much stress however, leads to depression, heart disease, cancers and more.