Stress And Restless Sleep Management
What Is Stress?
Stress is your body’s response to certain situations. Stress is subjective. Something that may be stressful for one person — speaking in public, for instance — may not be stressful for someone else. Not all stresses are “bad” either. Graduating from college, for example, may be considered a “good” stress.
Stress can affect your physical health, your mental health, and your behavior. In response to stressful stimuli, your body turns on its biological response: chemicals and hormones are released that are meant to help your body rise to the challenge. Your heart rate increases, your brain works faster and becomes razor sharp, you have a sudden burst of energy. This response is natural and basic; it’s what kept our ancestors from falling victim to hungry predators. Stress overload, however, can have harmful effects.
We cannot eliminate bad stress from our lives, but we can learn to avoid and manage it.
Is All Stress Bad?
No, not all stress is bad. In fact, it can be healthy because it helps us avoid accidents, power through unexpected deadlines, or stay clear minded in chaotic situations. But stress is meant to be temporary.
Once you passed the “fight or flight” moment, your body should return to a natural state. Your heart rate slows, muscles release, and breathing returns to normal. But the circumstances of chronic stress so many of us face as a result of the pressures and demands of our modern lives means our bodies may frequently be in a heightened state with our heart pumping hard and our blood vessels constricted. Over time, these physiologic demands begin to take a toll on the body. This is the unhealthy side of stress.
Types of Stress
Acute stress is your body’s immediate reaction to a new challenge, event, or demand — the fight or flight response. As the pressures of a near-miss automobile accident, an argument with a family member, or a costly mistake at work sink in, your body turns on this biological response. Acute stress isn’t always caused by negative stress; it’s also the experience you have when riding a roller coaster or having a person jump out at you in a haunted house. Isolated episodes of acute stress should not have any lingering health effects. In fact, they might actually be healthy for you — as these stressful situations give your body and brain practice in developing the best response to future stressful situations.
Severe acute stress such as stress suffered as the victim of a crime or life-threatening situation can lead to mental health problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or acute stress disorder.
If acute stress isn’t resolved and begins to increase or lasts for long periods of time, it becomes chronic stress. Chronic stress can be detrimental to your health, as it can contribute to several serious diseases or health risks, such as heart disease, cancer, lung disease, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.
“Burnout syndrome” has been recognized for the first time as an official medical diagnosis.
WHO’s International Classification of Diseases 11th edition (ICD), which categorizes diseases for diagnosis by health care professionals and determines coverage by health insurers, was published on Saturday ending more than four decades of debate among experts over how to define this stress disorder.
The new diagnosis is defined as a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy. Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”
Exclusion to this diagnosis includes adjustment disorder, disorders specifically associated with stress such as PTSD, fear-related disorders, and mood disorders (anxiety and depression).
Burnout is sometimes referred to as compassion fatigue, especially among health care providers, service members, and first responders who often see horrible things on the job. There is such a thing as caring too much. We recommend that such professionals be compassionate, not empathetic because no one has the capacity to feel everyone’s pain. It can also be caused by more typical work stressors, such as low pay, long hours, too heavy a workload, not having enough control over job-related decisions, conflicting demands or unclear performance expectations, unrealistic deadlines, lack of autonomy, lack of social support, few opportunities for promotion and just plain boredom.
The American Institute of Stress recommends identifying and confronting stressors whenever possible. Start by talking to your supervisor. Employee health has been linked to productivity at work, so your employer has an incentive to create a work environment that promotes employee well-being. Practicing proactive stress management such as taking frequent short breaks to unwind and recharge, and doing helpful exercises such as deep breathing can help. It is also useful to develop resilience to stressors using techniques such as meditation, and mindfulness (a state in which you actively observe present experiences and thoughts without judging them), yoga, Tai Chi, or simply taking walks. One major cause of burnout that must be addressed is the 24-hour nonstop social media cycle. Employees should establish work-life boundaries when they are not available and learn how to avoid checking their phones or email after hours. If all these strategies fail seek professional help or realize it’s time to update your resume and move on.
First, recognize stress:
Stress symptoms include mental, social, and physical manifestations. These include exhaustion, loss of/increased appetite, headaches, crying, sleeplessness, and oversleeping. Escape through alcohol, drugs, or other compulsive behavior are often indications. Feelings of alarm, frustration, or apathy may accompany stress.
If you feel that stress is affecting your studies,
a first option is to seek help through your educational counseling center.
Stress Management is the ability to maintain control
when situations, people, and events make excessive demands.
What can you do to manage your stress?
What are some strategies?
See if there really is something you can change or control in the situation
|Set realistic goals for yourself
Reduce the number of events going on in your life and you may reduce the circuit overload
|Exercise in stress reduction through project management/prioritizing|
|Remove yourself from the stressful situation
Give yourself a break if only for a few moments daily
|Don’t overwhelm yourself
by fretting about your entire workload. Handle each task as it comes, or selectively deal with matters in some priority
|Don’t sweat the small stuff
Try to prioritize a few truly important things and let the rest slide
|Learn how to best relax yourself
Meditation and breathing exercises have been proven to be very effective in controlling stress. Practice clearing your mind of disturbing thoughts.
|Selectively change the way you react, but not too much at one time. Focus on one troublesome thing and manage your reactions to it/him/her||Change the way you see your situation; seek alternative viewpoints
Stress is a reaction to events and problems, and you can lock yourself in to one way of viewing your situation. Seek an outside perspective of the situation, compare it with yours. and perhaps lessen your reaction to these conditions.
|Avoid extreme reactions;
Why hate when a little dislike will do? Why generate anxiety when you can be nervous? Why rage when anger will do the job? Why be depressed when you can just be sad?
|Do something for others
to help get your mind off your self
|Get enough sleep
Lack of rest just aggravates stress
|Work off stress
with physical activity, whether it’s jogging, tennis, gardening
|Avoid self-medication or escape
Alcohol and drugs can mask stress. They don’t help deal with the problems
|Begin to manage the effects of stress
This is a long range strategy of adapting to your situation, and the effects of stress in your life. Try to isolate and work with one “effect” at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself. for example, if you are not sleeping well, seek help on this one problem.
|Try to “use” stress
If you can’t remedy, nor escape from, what is bothering you, flow with it and try to use it in a productive way
|Try to be positive
Give yourself messages as to how well you can cope rather than how horrible everything is going to be. “Stress can actually help memory, provided it is short-term and not too severe. Stress causes more glucose to be delivered to the brain, which makes more energy available to neurons. This, in turn, enhances memory formation and retrieval. On the other hand, if stress is prolonged, it can impede the glucose delivery and disrupt memory.”
“All Stressed Up”, St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch, p. 8B, Monday, November 30, 1998
if stress is putting you in an unmanageable state or interfering with your schoolwork, social and/or work life,
seek professional help at your school counseling center
The Dangers of Chronic Stress and Cortisol
Chronic stress, the kind most of us face every day, is a killer. Ninety percent of doctor visits are for stress-related health complaints. Chronic stress makes you more vulnerable to everything from cancer to the common cold. The non-stop elevation of stress hormones not only makes your body sick, it negatively impacts your brain as well.
There are two main kinds of stress — acute stress and chronic stress — and, despite what you might think, not all stress is bad for you. Acute stress is the reaction to an immediate threat, commonly known as the “fight or flight” response. Once the threat has passed, your levels of stress hormones return to normal with no long-lasting effects. Some degree of acute stress is even considered desirable as it primes your brain for peak performance.
Epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and norepinephrine are stress hormones produced on an as-needed basis in moments of extreme excitement. They help you think and move fast in an emergency. In the right situation, they can save your life. They don’t linger in the body, dissipating as quickly as they were created.
Cortisol, on the other hand, streams through your system all day long, and that’s what makes it so dangerous. This stress hormone has been called “public enemy #1.” Excess cortisol leads to a host of physical health problems including weight gain, osteoporosis, digestive problems, hormone imbalances, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Chronic stress takes a toll on adrenal glands, leaving you feeling wired but tired. Cortisol also takes an equally high toll on your brain.
Ways Chronic Stress Affects Your Brain
- Stress creates free radicals that kill brain cells.
- Chronic stress makes you forgetful and emotional.
- Stress creates a vicious cycle of fear and anxiety.
- Stress halts the production of new brain cells.
- Stress depletes critical brain chemicals causing depression.
- Stress puts you at greater risk for mental illnesses of all kinds.
- Stress makes you stupid.
- Chronic stress shrinks your brain.
- Stress lets toxins into your brain.
- Chronic stress increases your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
- Stress causes brain cells to commit suicide.
- Chronic stress contributes to brain inflammation and depression.
How to Lower Stress Levels to Improve Sleep
While there are a few chronic sleep conditions that may require medical intervention, like sleep apnoea and insomnia, if your sleep loss is due to stress, there are some things you can do to help yourself. Check out some of these tips and tricks to relieving stress and incorporate a few of them into your daily life, to see if you notice any difference in sleep quality.
Increase your exposure to daylight
Help calibrate your circadian rhythm by making sure you get lots of daylight and if you can’t, consider investing in a light therapy device to keep near you, during the day.
Make sure you are giving yourself time to exercise during the day. Exercise is considered by health professionals as one of the best ways to maintain mental health and reduce stress.
Try some natural relaxation and wellness techniques
There are plenty of guided meditations and yoga routines geared specifically to those with problems sleeping.
Have a bath before bed with a few drops of lavender or sleep with an air diffuser on near the bed, to both moisturize the air and infuse it with a relaxing aroma.
Make your room a den of zen
Never bring your work to bed and invest in a good bed with linens in calming colours, like white and grey. Establish a relaxing night time routine that starts at least an hour before you try to hit the pillow.
The University of Rochester Medical Center says that journaling can help you manage overwhelming emotion and anxiety, reduce stress and cope with depression.
Sort out your finances
65 percent of Americans lie awake due to money issues. Sometimes easier said than done, sorting out your finances can be a good way to reducing your stress and helping you to get a good night’s sleep.
Look to supplements
While all supplements should be taken under the guidance of a physician, melatonin, tryptophan, B12 and magnesium are some of the useful ones that might help you, as well as herbal teas that contain valerian, passionflower and camomile.
Adjust your diet
Don’t eat too close to bedtime and make sure your diet isn’t too heavy in sugar and carbohydrates, which can wreak havoc on your blood sugar and energy levels.
Seek professional help
If nothing seems to work and you’ve tried all of the above, you might do well with the help of a sleep specialist.