World Stress Day: The Biology and Psychology of Stress

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Today (November 2) marks this year’s World Stress Day. Let us make this year’s stress day non-stressful!

Read more to find out the ins and outs of stress and how you can overcome the manifestations of stress.

We all get stressed, especially as students with a heavy workload and some of you will have part-time jobs. This article will discuss what’s happening within your mind and body when you are stressed and how to destress yourself.

The main thing I suspect is stressful for many of you at the moment would be time management and upcoming deadlines. Although I won’t help with the root of the problem, I hope you provide some healthy coping mechanisms.

However, I hope to post articles on time management and organisational skills shortly. So, watch this space!

Why do we stress?

Evidently, stress is an evolutionary biological response instilled in us to keep us safe and alive. However, sometimes the stress response of the mind and body is warranted and helps us out.

But sometimes it is a nuisance causing unnecessary anxiety and in some cases it can cause a physical response such as nausea and loss of appetite.

First, let’s discuss the biological and psychological symptoms of stress.

Biological symptoms of stress

When stressed, it sends signals to our body indicating a danger of some sort. As a result, the body switches to the sympathetic nervous system (the fight-or-flight response). As a consequence, the body switches its energy to fighting the perceived threat and switches off unnecessary mechanisms within the body, as these are not the priority.

These include processes like:

  • Digestion
  • Healing
  • Reproductive and growth hormone production

Thus, it is understandable why a state of constant stress can tremendously impact your physiological well-being.

Stress can manifest in many physical ways, including the following:

  • Irritability
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tensenesses around the body
  • Gut issues
  • Nausea and dizziness
  • Panic or anxiety attacks
  • Blurry eyes or sore eyes
  • Headaches
  • Chest pains
  • Sleeping issues
  • Bowel movement issues
  • Rashes or itchy skin
  • Sweating or hot flushes
  • Changes to period / menstrual health
  • Any existing health issues exacerbated

Psychological symptoms of stress

When we are stressed, it can very quickly become a burden to our mental health. The worrying and overactive mind may worsen the stress, which further emphasises the importance of getting your stress levels down.

When stressed, it is easy to fall into negative thinking patterns and feel deflated or even hopeless. You must recognise this and try your best to stop it in its tracks.

Psychologically speaking, stress can manifest in many ways, including the following:

  • Feeling anxious
  • Feeling depressed
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Unable to feel joy
  • Feeling alone
  • Existing mental health problems worsening

What are the implications of stress?

Being in a constant state of stress can be detrimental to your health and well-being. As mentioned above, these symptoms are harmful enough when feeling them at that moment. However, left occurring long enough, it can be very dangerous for your physical and mental health.

How to ease the stress

There are many ways you can ease stress. First, let’s discuss the possibilities for each group of symptoms: (1) Psychological and (2) Biological.

It is important to note that as you work on the psychological side of things, your physical symptoms will naturally ease.

(1) Psychological

So, to ease the stress from psychological symptoms, there are a few categories of things you can do.

Try the self-care approach

  • Take a break from work
  • Relax with an activity you enjoy
  • Meditate
  • Shower or bathe
  • Do skincare
  • Eat your favourite food
  • Have a cup of tea

Also, consider the socialising approach:

  • talk to a friend
  • have a day out (or in)
  • spend time with family

Moreover, the organisational approach:

  • Write down all goals (long or short-term)
  • Write down everything that is stressing you and dispose of it safely (burn, bin, rip it up)
  • Write down or speak affirmations
  • Start a journal
  • Practice gratitude

Further, the healing approach:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Good hygiene (i.e. showering, brushing teeth)
  • Hit the hay earlier
  • Eat healthily
  • Exercise

Finally, try the environmental change approach:

  • Change of scenery – go outside
  • Tidy/declutter your room
  • Organise your university notes
  • Light a candle
  • Fill your room with things that make you happy (i.e. photos, hobbies and affirmations)
  • Spend time with your pet or a friend with a pet

(2) Biological

As mentioned above, the biological symptoms of stress will ease if it is psychologically worked it.

However, there are many tips to ease the biological manifestations of stress.

Any physical illness-like symptoms can be treated by acting as if you are recovering from an illness.

For example:

  • Sleep
  • Stay hydrated
  • Maintain good hygiene
  • Speak to GP for further assistance

Gut health issues is a problematic issue because it varies among individuals, but generally:

  • Eat a healthy balanced diet
  • Eat at normal times

I will go into more detail about food in another article regarding the stress hormone.

Final thoughts

If your stress is negatively impacting you, do not hesitate to reach out. No one’s struggle is unimportant, and if it is affecting you, then it is 100% valid. You are important, and you will be heard.

Final notes and further information

If you are struggling with anything mentioned, please contact your GP or any of the helplines below:

Additionally, within the university, there are services you can contact to assist you with your feelings and struggles.

  • Student services
  • Mental health services
  • Apply for counselling through the university
  • Togetherall

More information on the university services above can be found here.

Stress impacts both mental and physical health, and it is vital you take the necessary steps to get yourself back to a baseline level to avoid the repercussions of constant stress on the body and mind.

Featured Image Credit: Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

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Final year Biology & Psychology student with a keen interest in music, food and lifestyle pieces.

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