First, know this: “Stress is a normal part of life,” says Ivena Clarissa, Senior Psychologist in the Department of Psychological Medicine at the National University Hospital.
Especially so for workaholics, helper-less stay-at-home mums and others whose day-to-day stress level may be high.
But as soon as you can identify stress-related health concerns, the sooner you can start managing them. Look out for the following signs and symptoms for:
1. Heart disease
Do you feel like you’re revving high all the time? Can’t seem to calm down?
In response to stress, your body releases excess adrenaline and cortisol (i.e., the “stress” hormones). Over time, these increased and sustained hormone levels force your heart muscle to work harder to pump blood, which can strain your cardiovascular system.
In addition, stress can cause people to eat poorly, smoke and not exercise, all of which contribute to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and subsequent heart disease.
Express your feelings instead of bottling them up so you feel psychologically better. Other ways to reduce stress: improving time management and incorporating enjoyable activities into your days.
Women, in particular, should heed warnings about heart health. Heart disease (and stroke) is the number one killer of women globally, according to the World Heart Federation.
Keep an eye on early warning signs, including blood pressure of 140/90 (hypertension) or total cholesterol of 240 mg/dL or higher.
2. Anxiety and depression
In Singapore, 10 percent of the population suffers from anxiety or depression, according to Singapore General Hospital.
These problems manifest as worrying too much, not enjoying life and being physically and mentally exhausted to the point of not functioning normally.
How to know if stress is the cause of your anxiety or depression? Look out for symptoms such as being unable to cope with changing circumstances, feeling overwhelmed, having a fear of being judged or a lack of belief in being good enough.
Talking to a professional about your stressors as well as working on behavioral (action) and cognitive (thinking) solutions can help turn things around. Adequate sleep is a must, as is fostering a supportive environment with friends, family and workmates.
And if the evening news is stressing you out, turn it off. You, after all, are the boss of you.
3. Teeth grinding
Bruxism, or teeth grinding, is a stress-related condition that’s on the rise – more than 30 percent of the population in Australia has it, for example.
Symptoms include: migraines, a tired jaw, sensitive teeth or a stiff neck.
Your dentist can diagnose bruxism with a detailed interview and an examination of your mouth.
While it can’t be cured, it can be managed, with the use of a mouth splint that repositions the jaw to reduce stress and pain in the TMJ (temporomandibular joint). This can help up to 75 percent of the issue, studies show.
4. Gastrointestinal issues
When stressed, some of us have certain unhealthy cravings, and indulge in more fried, oily or spicy foods or overeat. This may relieve your stress for a while, but your gut health suffers as a result.
What happens: Your stomach lining becomes irritated, which causes gas and indigestion (think bloating, belching, nausea), which can in turn cause acid reflux – or that burning sensation in your chest (i.e., heartburn) or stomach.
Your gut is your second brain. If your gut is out of sync, you also may experience things like diarrhoea, stomach ache, gastric flu and so on. (Gut bacteria actually consume a brain chemical, GABA, which helps keep you calm!)
Eating plenty of fibrous foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains; try introducing a probiotic, the “friendly” bacteria, into your diet as well.
What else to do
Talk to someone: Schedule an appointment with VA Psychology Center. The centre offers hypnotherapy sessions, said to aid in stress management, as well as regular talk therapy sessions. Call ahead at 6235 9602 to book an appointment.
Quit Smoking: If neither going cold turkey nor using nicotine patches have worked for you, give traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) a look. Royal Pine TCM claims that acupuncture – possibly in combo with herbal remedies – can help patients suppress the urge to smoke.
Create work-life balance: Carve out some time to unwind. Schedule a massage with Healthland, which specialises in Thai massages. These massages are said to raise your energy levels, relieve stress and help clear and calm your mind. Or, learn more about mindful meditation or breathing techniques at Tirisula Yoga.
By Andrea McKenna, last updated October 2019
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