Liftree Blog Post

The pandemic toll and effects of stress

Posted in : Admin

Picture this scene. Physically, Charlie is walking down the street but mentally he is far away. The memories of his past feel like a sudden outburst in his mind as he finds himself going down in an emotional spiral. “It’s my fault… it’s my fault… It is my fault…” Charlie chants this as a slogan while banging his head against the wall. It was Christmas Eve and Aunt Helen went out to get the 8-year-old Charlie a present and got hit by a heavy vehicle. The first year of his college feels like hell and his Aunt Helen was not around to comfort him. Charlie can not stop crying and feeling paranoid as he thinks everyone is staring at him, his friends, his family. What a nightmare. 

Walking on the roads of chronic stress, PTSD and constant anxiety may not not feel any different from the daily drudgery cruising through life at first. However, over a period of time, the chronic stress builds up to the point where a small pothole on the road of your life can lead to a major mental health breakdown accident! The stress Charlie experiences in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is not unique. Stress is as pervasive  in our lives as it was in 2012 –  if not more! Our tech-enabled lives leave us far, far more vulnerable to stress than the lives our ancestors led.

According to Deborah Khoshaba of the Hardiness Institute. Our body is constantly gauging the amount of arousal that we need in order to function At any given moment of any day. This sort of mental triage is the work of your nervous system which is made up of your sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system. You may have noticed that some people become fatigued even after a simple conversation with a friend or neighbor – maybe you are even one of these people. While others can chat for hours without getting exhausted. Speaking to someone is not generally seen as a stressor – and yet, there is a certain level of mental ‘arousal’ that happens when your environment undergoes even a small change. Even during pleasant conversations, your sympathetic nervous system is turned on by default. So, even if you are not feeling stressed or anxious, chances are your body is in a certain state of arousal. 

In biological terms, the organism in question (in this case, you!) is then said to be under ‘stress’. The threshold for different people is different across a range of situations. Hence, you will see that certain types of people deal with certain  types of situations better than others. See, human beings and most other organisms are hardwired to respond to their environment – so if you want to get technical – stress is really any change in your internal or external environment that alters your state of arousal. 

 Of course, it stands to reason that if someone is withstanding high levels of psychological arousal for a prolonged period of time, there may be adverse consequences of this ‘chronic stress’ from being  “on” a majority of the time. In fact, stress can manifest as psychosomatic pain in the form of stress migraines, abdominal aches and even tingling sensations. 

You see, stress is part of everyday life. However, if you have chronic abdominal pain as a result of psychosomatic stress, your physician’s diagnosis may not be able to cure what is aching from the inside. While we are only just starting to acknowledge the importance of mental health and its psychosocial impact on our daily lives, taking responsibility for our thoughts, emotions, and boundaries can be the first step towards developing a strong coping mechanism. The resilience to withstand pressure is not a personality trait but a muscle – the more you cope effectively with stress, the better you get at it.

What are the causes of stress in daily life?

According to Acuity Mag, what causes stress is different for everyone, but there are some common triggers. Keep in mind that not everything on this list will be equally stressful for everyone, but some of these things may impact some people more than others. Put together, all of this information helps mental health professionals create a psychosomatic profile of an individual that can then be used to diagnose and address the stress in your life. Let’s first take a look at these stressors. 

  • Excess work or study
  • Uncertainty about future
  • Worry about finances
  • Health concerns
  • Difficulty with relationships
  • Death in the family
  • Divorce or separation
  • Falling pregnant
  • Family gatherings
  • Big changes in routine

Stress affects your mental, physical and spiritual health. Coping is how you deal with that stress or not. I remember sitting during graduate school in York University researcher and professor Esther Greenglass’ class learning about how stress occurs when people think they do not have the resources to cope with the challenges that they are up against. While of course stress is not just in your head, the simple realisation that you are in control of your life can help you cope a little better and go from a paralysed state of stress to a proactive state of problem-solving.

 In this blog, we will observe her journey and understand stress, its impact, the early signs and lastly, how to cope with it

Hazards of stress

According to Walter J. McNerney, President of Blue Cross and Blue Shield Associates, “Stress is the body’s physical, mental, and chemical reaction to circumstances that frighten, excite, confuse, endanger, or irritate” (McNerney WJ, personal communication, 1989). 

Katie was a top scorer in her university. She was the embodiment of a perfect student, child and friend. Getting into her dream university to study management was a tough fight and she was happy to achieve it. Living in the hostels with friends, living afar yet technologically in touch with her family. It indeed was a perfect life until the pandemic hit and her life toppled.

The source of our daily stress is not always obvious. We go about our technology-enhanced days overlooking common stressful thoughts, events, feelings and behaviours – only to have it all accumulate and blow up in our faces later. External triggers may include life changes, our environment, work or social relationships. Internal stressors may include fear, lack of control or limiting personal beliefs. Stress management is knowing your stressors to proactively deal with them.

With the ongoing fear of being contacted with the virus, gloomy atmosphere, lack of social connections with friends, lack of human touch, drastic changes in routine and the laid-back attitude of teachers & students in online classes, nothing seemed to be going right. The updates of the death toll would just make matters worse for her. In the initial days, she tried to set a routine with her friends to participate in Zoom yoga classes, but over time, she just felt more and more alone. Her mother noted that Katie had been sweating more than usual. She had periods of occasional headaches and muscle spasms. Katie would always be complaining about the body pain and nausea, but probably it was because of excess lying around with no physical work to be done. Well, the most sensible deduction may be that her headaches are probably from spending hours and hours binge-watching Netflix series, which may not be as serious as it sounds.

These physical impacts weren’t a big of a problem, but what about the time when Katie would be yelling around throwing fits of anger for no reason at all? How is she unable to concentrate on her studies like she used to and feeling restless at all times? Oh, remember the time when Katie used to flex on her memory skills and now she couldn’t even remember to give her best friend a callback? The constant nail-biting and other incidents do seem normal if you look at them individually, but does it need immediate attention on a grosser scale?

Some other stress-associated behaviours include 

  • food cravings
  • eating too much or too little
  • sudden angry outbursts
  • drug and alcohol misuse
  • higher tobacco consumption
  • social withdrawal
  • frequent crying
  • relationship problems

What is important to note here is that identifying these signs in their early stages would help combat several complications, including

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • lower immunity
  • muscular aches
  • PTSD
  • sleeping difficulties
  • stomach upset

Stress is a matter of grave concern

From early ageing to heart problems, the effects of your everyday stress can be irreversibly damaging to your health. Long working hours, professional travel, parenthood, lack of sleep or exercise, trying to make ends meet. Some people may believe that stress makes them perform better, but the effects of chronic stress are pervasive and destructive. By forgetting where you put your keys, stress can also have dramatic adverse effects on your health. Healthline sets forth the hazards of stress as below.

1. Difficult to control your emotions

In a 2013 study, researchers taught subjects stress control techniques but after participants were put under mild stress (having their hands dunked in icy water), they could not easily calm themselves down when shown pictures of snakes or spiders. 

“Our results suggest that even mild stress, such as that encountered in daily life, may impair the ability to use cognitive techniques known to control fear and anxiety,” lead author Candace Raio, Ph.D., said in a press release.

2. Psychosomatic manifestations

Some people are actually predisposed to certain illnesses – both mental and physical. Chronic stress can actually exacerbate these conditions. Stress has been linked to diseases such as cancer, lung disease, fatal accidents, suicide and cirrhosis of the liver. This is how stress manifests in our physical bodies. However, the impact of stress on our mental health can be equally devastating – and often silent.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University discovered that children exposed to chronic stress are more likely to develop a mental illness if they are genetically predisposed. 

3.  Affect your love life

A 1984 study found that stress can affect a man’s body weight, testosterone levels and sexual desire. Numerous studies have shown that stress can lead to impotence.

Pregnant women can also be affected by stress which may trigger changes in their children as they grow, specifically behavioural and developmental issues.

4.  Ruins your teeth & gums

While people grind their teeth unconsciously in stress or in sleep, it can do lasting damage to their jaw and wear their teeth thin. A multi-university study in 2012 also linked stress to gum disease. Researchers concluded that the pressures of marriage, parenthood, work or lack of romantic involvement were significant factors impacting periodontal disease.

5. Ruins your heart

Did you know that stress can physically damage your heart muscle? As stress hormones increase your heart rate and narrow blood vessels, your heart is forced to work harder and increase blood pressure.

According to the American Institute of Stress, the incidence rate of heart attacks and sudden death increases after major stress-inducing incidents, like hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis.

6. Make you gain weight

Think about the old times, when our hunter predecessors were forced to eat as much as possible due to the harsh conditions and scarcity of food. That compulsion lives on inside us and comes out when we are stressed.

Researchers at the University of Miami found that when people find themselves in stressful situations, they are likely to consume 40 percent more food than usual. 

On the opposite side of the spectrum, some people drastically cut down on food intake. 

Overeating or under-eating is not a solution to stress. Think of food as fuel. Consistent fuelling with nutrient-rich foods ensures that your physical and mental health remains resilient even in tough times. 

7. Weakens your immune system

The connection between mind and body is often underestimated. But everyone has experienced a cold when they can least afford to. That’s because the stress of the high demands puts on the body makes the immune system suffer, which makes you more vulnerable to colds and infections. The American Psychological Association (APA) recommends calming exercises, as well as social outlets to relieve stress.

“If constantly under stress, most of us will eventually start to function less well,” says Malaika Stoll, M.D., chief medical officer of SutterSelect. Multiple studies link chronic stress to a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, depression, weight gain, memory loss and even premature death, so “it’s important to recognize the warning signals,” she says. 

Stress is your body’s response to strain from a certain scenario or event. It may be a physical, mental, or emotional response. Not all strain is bad. It could make you extra conscious of factors around you and hold you extra focused. In a few instances, strain can come up with power and assist you in getting extra done.

What is the right way?

Noticing symptoms and signs is step one to taking action. Being a good friend and aiming to be a therapist, she couldn’t tolerate her friend walking on the wrong path. Most people would go on to rekindle hobbies like origami or to learn a new language. Either of the ways, you would be either changing the situation or changing your reaction. Pam restricted Katie and took matters into her own hands. Katie showed faith in her friend.

Change the situation

  • Avoid the stressor
  • Alter the stressor

Change your reaction

  • Adapt to the stressor
  • Accept the stressor

Strategy #1: Avoid unnecessary stress

You may not be able to avoid stress at all times, but you will be surprised to know how much stress you can avoid the following stressors. Not all stress can be avoided, and it’s not healthy to avoid a situation that needs to be addressed, but here’s what you can start with. 

  • Learning how to say “no”

Whether it is your personal or professional life, you should know your limits and stick to them. Refuse to accept added responsibilities when you’re close to reaching them. 

  • Avoid people who stress you out

You might have someone in your life that consistently causes stress in your life. If you can’t turn the relationship, limit the time you spend or end the relationship with that person.

  • Take control of your environment

If listening to the surprising turn of events on the TV makes you anxious, turn it off. If traffic gets you tense, take a longer but empty route. If grocery shopping is unpleasant, go online!

  • Avoid hot-button topics

If talking about religion or politics, avoid them. If the same subject with the same people causes arguments, don’t bring it up or excuse yourself when it’s the topic of discussion.

  • Pare down your to-do list

Start your day by analyzing your schedule, responsibilities and daily tasks. Drop tasks that aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list or eliminate them.

Strategy #2: Alter the situation

Avoiding a situation may not be an option every time, so you can try to alter it. Figure out what you can do to change things, so the problem doesn’t present itself in the future. Often, this involves changing the way you communicate and operate in your daily life.

  • Communicate your feelings

Express your feelings instead of bottling them up. If something or someone is bothering you, communicate your concerns openly and respectfully. 

  • Be willing to compromise

When you ask someone to change their behaviour, be willing to do the same. If you both compromise, you’ll have a good chance of finding a happy middle ground.

  • Be more assertive

Don’t take a backseat in your own life. Deal with problems head-on, doing your best to anticipate and prevent them. Ask your chatty roommate to round up in five minutes.

  • Manage your time better

Poor time management can cause a lot of stress. But if you plan ahead and make sure you don’t overextend yourself, you can alter the amount of stress you’re under.

Strategy #3: Adapt to the stressor

If you can’t change the stressor, change yourself. It is not easy to avoid at all times, which is why you must learn to adapt. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by changing your expectations and attitude.

  • Reframe problems

Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Rather than fuming about a traffic jam, look at it as an opportunity to pause and regroup or enjoy some alone time.

  • Look at the big picture

Take perspective of the stressful situation. Ask yourself how important it will be in the long run. If it doesn’t matter in a while, focus your time and energy elsewhere.

  • Adjust your standards

Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others and learn to be okay with “good enough.”

  • Focus on the positive

When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your positive qualities and gifts.

Strategy #4: Accept the things you can’t change

You can’t prevent or change stressors such as the death of a loved one, a serious illness. In such cases, the best way to cope with stress is to accept things as they are. Acceptance may be difficult, but it’s easier than railing against a situation you can’t change in the long run.

  • Don’t try to control the uncontrollable

The behaviour of other people is beyond your control. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control, such as choosing to react to problems.

  • Look for the upside

As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth.

  • Share your feelings

Talk to a trusted friend or a therapist. Expressing what you’re going through can be very cathartic, even if there’s nothing you can do to alter the stressful situation.

  • Learn to forgive

Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes. Let go of anger and resentments. Free yourself from negative energy by forgiving and moving on.

People may find that the following lifestyle measures can help them manage or prevent stress-induced feelings of being overwhelmed.

  • Reducing the intake of alcohol, drugs, and caffeine: These substances will not help prevent stress, and they can make it worse.
  • Nutrition: A healthful, balanced diet containing plenty of fruit and vegetables can help maintain the immune system at times of stress. A poor diet can lead to ill health and additional stress.
  • Priority management: It may help to spend a little time organizing a daily to-do list and focusing on urgent or time-sensitive tasks. People can then focus on what they have completed or accomplished for the day rather than on the tasks they have yet to complete.
  • Time: People should set aside some time to organize their schedules, relax, and pursue their own interests.
  • Breathing and relaxation: 
  • Meditation, massage, and yoga can help. Breathing and relaxation techniques can slow down the heart rate and promote relaxation. Deep breathing is also a central part of mindfulness meditation.
  • Talking: Sharing feelings and concerns with family, friends, and work colleagues may help a person “let off steam” and reduce feelings of isolation. Other people may be able to suggest unexpected, workable solutions to the stressor.
  • Acknowledging the signs: A person can be so anxious about the problem causing the stress that they do not notice the effects on their body. It is important to be mindful of any changes.
  •  – progressive relaxation techniques.
  • Experiment with coordinating your breathing with the tensing and relaxing of each muscle group. Inhale and briefly hold your breath as you tense the muscle group. Exhale as you let go. Be aware of the sounds of the breath as you relax as well as the feelings of relaxation. Over time the hissing of the slow release of breath will become associated with relaxation and speed up the process of letting go.

Although stress is the body’s response to any request, whether pleasant or uncomfortable, the most important thing is how the stressor is dealt with. Do we suppress our feelings and let stress arise? Or are we trying to resolve our stress positively? 

Chronic stress becomes a real problem if nothing is done about it, and there’s an accumulative effect. The more chronic stress you have, the less acute stress it takes to push you over the edge and vice versa. [Salvatore Maddi, Ph.D, President, The Hardiness Institute]

The ability to deal with stress is an important skill as stress can negatively affect a number of different areas in your life, including work, relationships, health, and bodily functions. If your stress is managed well, you probably don’t think much about challenges when they arise because you are ready to deal with them emotionally, physically, and psychologically. These difficulties can seem overwhelming and insurmountable. Consider us as the Pam in your life. You are stronger than you believe, but there might be underlying harm in dealing with stress alone. Knowing that you have fallen prey to stress is not the solution but to overcome it with patience and perseverance. This is not for clinical treatment. Let this be a wake-up call. Talk to us if you find this relatable and if you think you need help.

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