Fight or flight: dealing with stress

Written by: Top Doctors®
Edited by: Alex Rolandi

Stress, despite its negative connotations, is part of the reason we are still around as a species today. Stress is behind humankind’s ‘fight or flight’ instinct, triggered when our ancient ancestors sensed danger. Times have changed, however, and stress is no longer key to our survival in the same sense but our bodies continue to react the same way when we are presented with a real or perceived threat. At some point or another, stress affects us all. It’s part of our genetic heritage, even if we are no longer hiding from hungry beasts, modern day life presents us with different kinds of challenges that can trigger our primeval instincts.

Symptoms of stress to watch out for

Stress sets in motion physical changes to the body, releasing certain chemicals such as adrenaline in order to help us deal with a ‘dangerous’ situation. Once the danger has passed, whether it be a hungry bear or a boss on the warpath, stress levels generally drop as the body returns to normal, but in some cases a person may feel themselves in a constant state of stress. Their body remains alert all the time, and they begin to develop certain symptoms related to stress causing a negative effect on their health.

Stress symptoms can affect us in many ways. They may manifest either physically, emotionally, behaviourally, or cognitively.

Physical stress signs:

  • Headaches
  • Low energy
  • Aches and pains
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety and shaking
  • Dry mouth
  • Clenched jaw
  • Restless legs
  • Loss of sexual desire
  • Insomnia

Emotional symptoms:

  • Short temper
  • Trouble relaxing
  • Low self-esteem
  • Avoiding social contact
  • Feeling overwhelmed by life

Behavioural symptoms:

  • Avoidance of responsibilities
  • Increase in consumption of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes
  • Changes in normal appetite habits
  • Exhibition of certain nervous behaviours such as nail biting

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Forgetfulness and disorganisation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Worrying a lot
  • Being pessimistic


The problem with chronic stress

For people living in cities, life can be a bombardment of the senses. Stress levels are higher as the body is frequently in a stressed-state of fight or flight. Being stressed out every once in a while is nothing to worry about, especially in terms of health. Long-term stress, however, can give rise to some serious health problems including:


  • Cardiovascular disease, such as hypertension, arrhythmias, and even heart attacks
  • Mental health issues, including depression and anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Gastrointestinal troubles
  • Skin problems
  • Menstrual problems


How to cope with stress

Getting by these days is not always an easy feat and stress is often a side-effect of all we have to deal with. Sometimes, we all need a little bit of stress management when it feels like things are getting too much. In order to deal with your stress, it is a good idea to try and find its root cause. Doing this helps managing stress in the future a less daunting task. Instead of being immersed in all that’s going on with your life and feeling like you’ve lost control, by taking a step back from the situation allows you to see it more for what it really is without letting it dominate you.

There is no point in getting het up over things you cannot control. Occasionally it’s best just to let things go. You can make positive changes to things that are in your sphere of influence, however. Tidying your house can work wonders, or if you are having trouble at work, talk to your supervisor and let them know.

Doing something you love can also help deal with stress. Finding a healthy activity that you can really engage in can greatly help reduce stress levels.

There are many more techniques or treatments available to help people cope with stress. If you are feeling stressed, and don’t know what to do, get in touch with a specialist.


By Topdoctors

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