What is stress? | Cigna Global Health Insurance

Stress Care

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What is stress?

How much stress we can cope with depends on our personalities and circumstances. In small doses, stress can actually be good for you – some people perform better when they're under a bit of pressure as it helps motivate them to get things done. But too much stress or stress that lasts for a long time can take its toll on your body.1

Effects of stress on your body

High levels of stress stimulate what's called the 'fight or flight' response, which is triggered when we feel threatened or in danger. This response allows your body to react quickly and effectively in a high-pressured situation. Hormones such adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine are released and cause your blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, metabolism and blood flow to your muscles to all increase.1

However, our fight or flight response has evolved to help us cope with short bouts of stress. When stress levels continue to stay high for longer periods of time, blood flow being diverted away from areas such as the brain and digestive system is bad news for your body and can lead to a number of negative symptoms.1

The ability to remember information and to concentrate on simple actions often decreases when you are anxious and unable to focus. Additionally, chronic stress can make you under–alert, when your thinking is foggy, you daydream, are prone to errors and have a poor memory.2

Stress symptoms

People react to stress in different ways, but there are some common symptoms2:

  • Physical symptoms
    • Headaches
    • Neck and backache
    • Stomach ache
    • High blood pressure
    • High blood sugar
    • Reduced ability to recover from illness
  • Emotional symptoms
    • Mood swings
    • Insomnia
    • Crying easily
    • Anger
    • Depressive thoughts
    • Compulsive behavior

Take five

Breathing exercises are a simple but effective way to manage feelings of stress. If you start to feel tense take five minutes, preferably on your own, and follow this routine3:

  1. Breathing in through your nose, start to fill your lungs with as much air as you can and feel your stomach and ribcage expand as you do.
  2. Exhale through your mouth and count from one to five as all the air leaves your lungs. Don’t worry if you don’t reach five the first time – the more times you do it, the more relaxed your breathing will be.

How to approach stressful situations

Sometimes feeling stressed can manifest itself as a feeling of anxiety or anger but people can be unaware of what is actually causing these feelings. Take some time out to identify the cause, and work out a plan to reduce your excess stress. Try the following4:

  • Organize your time
    Make lists and prioritize your tasks. Identify when in your day you can make time to make progress on your to-do list.
  • Take steps to tackle some of the causes of stress
    Think about what practical steps can be taken to reduce the stress. It is often a good idea to break things down into smaller steps. Ask for help if necessary.
  • Accept the things that you can't change
    For example, if you find someone difficult and rude acknowledge that you may not be able to change their behavior, however you can change how they make you feel.
  • Try writing things down or talking through issues with others
    Speak to a close friend, colleague, partner or sibling who can lend a sympathetic ear.

Above all try and practice thinking positively. Stressful situations can cause people to enter a vicious cycle of negative thinking, which can lead to depression and anxiety.5

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