Staying Well: Stress… How it affects my body and how can I best manage it?

Staying Well: Stress... How it affects my body and
how can I best manage it?

By Dr Priyanka Lakhani, General Practitioner, Wellness International Ltd

Stress is a part of everyday life. A little bit of pressure can be a good thing to keep us motivated to get things done; too much however, and it can be a different story entirely. Stress is the feeling you get from being under too much mental or emotional pressure. Common causes include work, family, relationships, financial difficulties, unemployment and illness.


The stress response causes physical changes within our body as it releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, triggering the 'fight or flight' response. This makes your heart beat faster, raises your blood pressure, makes you breathe faster and deeper so that you have an increase supply of oxygen, makes your muscles tighten up and causes a release of sugar into the bloodstream to give you a boost of energy.

All of this is excellent in the short term to help you up your game, but problems can arise when you are constantly
stressed due to the continuous release of hormones. You can end up feeling tired all the time, not sleeping well,
develop muscle aches and pains (usually back and neck) and suffer with headaches. You might also find that you have symptoms of acid reflux (heartburn) or get an upset stomach. Longer term, it can increase your risk of
developing high blood pressure and heart disease.

You might notice that you keep getting ill, this is because cortisol and other hormones released over a continuous
period of time can weaken your immune system. You also probably haven't had enough time to rest. If you are feeling like this, listen to your body as it is trying to tell you something.

Being stressed can affect your mental health too. Emotionally you might find yourself withdrawing or feeling like you are walking around in a bit of a daze. Feeling like you are unable to cope is common, and you might even feel very anxious or depressed. It is important that you speak to your doctor if you are feeling like this, as they will be able to help.

The best way to deal with stress is to identify it early and make long term changes to the way you do things. Lets
face it, you probably won't be able to take away most of the things that make you stressed but you can ALWAYS deal
with things in a better way.

First and foremost, try and avoid picking up (or returning to) bad habits like smoking, drinking excessive amounts of
alcohol or using other recreational drugs. It might be tempting but it's just not worth it, and in the long run you will end up feeling worse.

Exercise – This might be difficult to fit in to your busy schedule, but try to get moving wherever and however you
can. Exercise itself is known to relieve stress and it releases natural endorphins to make you feel more positive. It can help you to feel more focused, self confident and motivated and help improve your quality of sleep.

Eat well – you are what you eat and it will affect how you feel. Try and avoid refined sugars, which are found in
processed foods, as these can cause energy crashes that might leave you feeling unnecessarily tired and irritable. Opt instead for a handful of nuts, some dark chocolate or a banana. Avoid comfort eating – easier said than done I know! Try also cutting down your caffeine intake (although you might feel you need more of it) because it is a stimulant and can make your feeling of stress worse.

Take a step back and take control – When you can't see the wood from the trees, stop for a moment and reassess.
Make a list of what needs to be done and prioritise it in order of importance. Delegate where possible and set realistic goals. There's no point in making yourself feel worse – so be true to yourself with what you can realistically achieve with the time that you have.

Work smarter not harder – keep this as your mantra – look at ways you can improve the way you do things to make
you more efficient. Learn how to say 'no' tactfully – this may be difficult at first, but it will help to minimise
situations where you agree to take on new roles or responsibilities when you already have too much to do and too little time to do it in.

Relax and / or Meditate – ok, it's not for everyone, but whatever you want to call it, try and spend a few minutes a
day reflecting inwards. This might be practicing a few breathing exercises or trying to focus your mind on clearing away any negative energy. Mindfulness really can help you a great deal in your day to day life.

Make time for your hobbies and friends – I really can't stress this enough! Doing things that you enjoy will
naturally make you feel better and offer a welcome distraction from everything else that might be going on. Just remember what I said about those bad habits – everything in moderation!

TALK ABOUT IT – a problem shared is definitely a problem halved. Talking to friends or family might be all you
need to regroup and get going again. Sometimes though, you might feel totally overwhelmed or have found that
talking to your support network hasn't quite done the trick. Speak to your GP – they can help. They can offer support, and if needed, refer you for talking therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy. This can help in identifying your stress triggers and give you techniques to deal with them in a better way. If needed, they can prescribe medication to help your symptoms.

Finally, remember life is short! Try and look on the bright side – stop worrying about the things you can't control and focus on the positives, once you start looking, you will find them!

About the Author

Dr Priyanka Lakhani graduated from Guy's King's and St Thomas' School of Medicine in 2009.

She completed her Foundation Training in the West Midlands, and in 2011 joined the Northwick Park Vocational Training Scheme for General Practice. Through her training, she has gained a wide range of clinical experience, including Rheumatology, Diabetes and Endocrinology, Paediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Psychiatry, General Surgery, Care of the Elderly and Genito-Urinary Medicine.

Priyanka joined the Wellness International team in early 2015 and is based within our Canary Wharf branch.

Priyanka is committed to delivering excellent care by placing the patient at the heart of the consultation, and works jointly with the patient to provide safe and effective management plans. Priyanka's key message is that it is paramount to have both a healthy mind and a healthy body, and this principle underpins her approach.

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