Stress is a very modern phenomenon. Our hectic everyday lives seem to fly by in a blur of meetings, responsibilities, chores and to-do lists. It’s no wonder that according to the British Heart Foundation one in three of us isn’t getting enough sleep each night. But how are we meant to sleep when there’s just so much to do?
But it’s not just sleep that we’re missing out on. We’re ordering takeaway food 12 times a month on average rather than cooking at home, a quarter of us don’t know who our neighbours are and even our precious holidays are being ruined by work commitments. No wonder we’re more stressed than ever before.
The concept of “feeling stressed” has entered the British subconscious and is used to describe anything from being a couple of minutes late leaving the house in the morning to having a work load that is too heavy. And while some medical authorities claim that not all stress is by default bad, it is pretty clear that a heavy and consistent dose of stress can lead to all sorts of debilitating side-effects. The sort of side effects that, ironically, can reduce your output or even put you out of action for a period of time.
One of the most common physical side effects of excessive stress is a regular feeling of anxiety which, in some cases, may develop into full-blown panic attacks. While anxiety may not sound overly intrusive, for those experiencing it on a daily basis, it is a thoroughly unpleasant experience that tarnishes even the most enjoyable of daily events.
It’s ironic that one common reaction to having so much on our plate is tiredness – the very enemy of the achievement we desire. However this tiredness isn’t just caused by a lack of sleep; there can be deeper psychological triggers at play here which can make you feel “deflated” or rob you of your self-motivation. In many cases, while sufferers will try to explain the problem as a lack of sleep it may be a symptom of a more serious underlying problem.
Speaking from a personal perspective the first sign that I’m feeling under pressure is a general irritability and tendency to be short tempered – either with things and people I normally love. That can manifest itself as ceasing to find favourite comedy shows funny anymore, a distinct lack of patience with family and friends and a general “draining” of any pleasure from the day.
While I’m aware of the problems I experience – which are normally very short term – it’s easy to see how in other circumstances this sort of persistent and unnecessary irritability could be the cause of worsening personal relationships and a growing anger at the world in general.
Loss of Sex Drive
Stress can take over our mind so deeply that we stop thinking about the more enjoyable aspects of life. Sex is often one of the first elements to suffer for a number of reasons. Firstly, when a stressed mind is on other things it can be difficult to “reboot”. Secondly the stressed individual may feel their “workload” so heavy that they don’t have time for sex – however incorrect that assumption may be.
Lastly stress is known to be one of the commonest causes of erectile dysfunction in men – something that will serve to not only make sex less tempting overall but may even worsen feelings of stress in affected individuals.
Alcohol or Drug Abuse
Many over-stressed individuals find themselves increasingly relying on some form of “crutch” to help them through the day. Like a safety blanket it helps to soothe away some of the stress of the day and make one feel a little more human for a while. The most common of these crutches is smoking cigarettes – with one of the most popular reasons of all for smoking being to combat stress.
However it’s not uncommon for something even more dangerous to be used; leading to an unhealthy abuse of either alcohol or drugs. It goes without saying that developing a reliance for either substance can be highly deleterious to your health, your family and life in general. In these cases a solution should be sought as soon as possible before any permanent damage may occur.
Until Robin William’s sad passing recently the problem of depression had perhaps not received the press they deserved. While a family history of depression is one of the most common risk factors for suffering with depression, others such as relationship problems, financial strain or substance abuse can all be linked directly or indirectly to stress.
The fact is that if you’re feeling overly stressed on a regular basis it’s important to accept that you could be putting yourself at risk of some pretty unpleasant physical side effects. The smart money is on nipping the problem in the bud before it escalates into something more serious. Whether you undergo a stress management course or look to re-evaluate your life to reduce stress the important lesson is this; take action, and the sooner the better.