Centuries of stereotyping men as the superhuman beings who must at all times display a ‘stiff upper lip’, be the breadwinners, be always in control, coping, strong and silent, is only just now beginning to be unpicked and thrown out for the delusion it is.
The Reality of Stress and Anxiety on Your Health
Sometimes, instead of realising that you are being affected by stress, you may find yourself becoming unusually irritable. You are likely to be surprised at your own sudden flashes of anger and even aggression. There may be moments when you find yourself taking undue risks. Occasionally you’ll feel close to breaking down and then at other times wanting to punch a hole through the wall. This kind of uncharacteristic behaviour may point to the fact that stress is having a major impact on your state of mind.
In the early days of stress affecting your mental health, you may find that you have brief flashes of feeling low and even desperate. Then the fog may lift, and you will be fine for a while, until the next time. Quite often the spells of suffering begin to get more frequent and closer together until the problem becomes impossible to ignore. Denial is a bad idea. You need to seek help as soon as you become aware that a pattern is developing, and the feelings are not just random one-off events.
In cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) there are often triggers such as flash back and nightmares that bring the overwhelming feelings of mental distress. This is a condition that needs urgent and very specialised treatment. You must seek medical support as soon as you recognise the symptoms, and they are unmistakeable. The good thing is that there are highly effective treatments available, combined with a carefully managed medication programme.
Unfortunately, many men of all ages still find it hard to ask for help. They may even find it difficult to talk to friends and family about fears and symptoms of mental distress. It seems that for some there is a tendency to reach for other means of easing pain, such as alcohol, drugs, throwing themselves obsessively into work or becoming withdrawn and anti-social. In fact, anything rather than admitting they are suffering. Some men may even make the desperate decision to live rough on the streets rather than face organised life, work, and society.
The truth is that men need help and support with emotional issues every bit as much as women do. There is no difference in the degree of pain experienced by either sex when it comes to depression and mental anguish and there is no weaker sex or stronger sex where mental health is concerned. No one should suffer in silence when it comes to health, and particularly the health of the nervous system. We now know that the old stigmas that were so inappropriately attached to mental health are banished, and we have huge science-backed evidence that a mental illness is no different to having a clinical disease.
At last, support for those suffering with symptoms of stress and anxiety is becoming more readily available. The NHS has made it easier to access information and advice and there are various other organisations offering support and counselling to anyone afraid that their mental health is becoming compromised due to various factors ranging from relationship problems, low self-esteem, work, finance issues, isolation, social difficulties, gender problems and many other triggers.
Physical Symptoms of Stress and Anxiety
It often happens that stress manifests itself in physical effects, some of which may include:
- Digestive upsets, including indigestion/heartburn, diarrhoea, constipation, stomach pain, and irritable bowel syndrome (which incorporates most of these)
- Low libido
- Lack of energy and persistent feelings of tiredness
- Feelings of nausea. This can sweep over you in waves
- Headache, sometimes turning to migraine
- Fluctuating weight
- Pain and feelings of tightness in your chest
- Increased pulse or becoming aware of changes in pulse rate
- Recurring tonsilitis
- Persistently dry mouth
If any of these symptoms are causing you to feel you are not coping or that they may be related to feelings of anxiety and have been present for longer than two weeks you should speak to your GP.
Examining the Way Stress Affects Your Everyday Life
There are areas of your life where being in a state of stress can often lead to conditions of anxiety and depression. This can then have the effect of holding you back in your chosen career or inhibiting relationships and social life, taking away much of the joy of living. Some of the most common problem areas are:
Stress at work
This can be caused by the work itself, or something unrelated but which has an impact on your work. When the pressure and demands on you are excessive you may find that after a while the struggle to cope becomes too much. It may be other issues such as a colleague who is giving you a hard time, a style of management that is hampering the way you are comfortable to work, being asked to do tasks that are outside your ability and comfort zone. These things and more can lead to feelings of unhappiness and anxiety.
If you have positively identified the cause of your stress, it may help if you feel you can discuss it with your manager or someone responsible for human resources within your workplace if appropriate. Working with them to introduce a few measures to help you cope would be beneficial:
- Look at ways to manage your time better
- Get some fresh air during lunch break. Exercise and time spent outdoors are both positive choices when you are stressed
- Aim for a good work/life balance so your family are not neglected, also so that you get to enjoy their company
- Try to get along well with colleagues. Their support is valuable
- Develop a positive attitude. It can help to look at work-related problems in a different way to issues at home
- Don’t be afraid to say no to extra commitments and make your reasons for saying no completely clear
- Make sure you take all the holiday entitlement due to you
Is Stress Responsible for Relationship Problems?
When work is causing you to feel stressed out, it’s almost impossible for the turbulent emotions not to have an impact on your personal life. Stress management techniques can teach you how to compartmentalise your emotions. This means that you are able to walk away from the cares of the working day when you are off duty and hopefully enjoy relaxing with loved ones. However, it is quite likely that some of those pressing issues are still bubbling away beneath the surface. The hope is that your relationship is one that can stand up to a certain amount of strain caused by external issues. If partners are sympathetic to each other’s hopes, fears, and anxiety triggers, all will be well. Unfortunately, not every relationship can aspire to this degree of empathy, and you may need to work on helping your partner understand what you are struggling with.
When you are stressed, you may become preoccupied and even withdrawn. This can be misinterpreted to mean that you are displeased or moody. You may not feel much like participating in the kind of leisure pursuits you once enjoyed, and this can begin to cause a degree of alienation between the two of you. Stress can sometimes have the effect of highlighting your less-endearing traits so without honest communication misunderstanding can arise. Don’t be afraid to be open about the things that are worrying you. The old adage that a problem shared is a problem halved is a very good piece of advice.
One great thing to also bear in mind when you’re thinking about the best way to de-stress is that a hug is scientifically proven to release a flood of endorphins into your blood stream, and nothing works better at relieving stress. Get hugging!
Stress and Your Sleep Patterns
It is known that mental and emotional health issues are closely linked to sleep quality, or lack of it. Lying awake worrying about something invariably turns to worrying about everything, and those negative thoughts just go round and round relentlessly. In those long hours of darkness your mind can play havoc with logic, and what you would normally be able to rationalise during the day, by night become a gargantuan problem. For anyone already suffering with anxiety and depression these thought patterns are magnified, and we now know that sleep deprivation itself makes mental health problems worse, creating a vicious cycle.
Extensive research is being carried out into sleep and how brain activity during certain phases of sleep link to mental and emotional health. Hospitals now have their own sleep clinics and there are positive findings that helping patients to achieve better quality sleep is having a healing effect on various psychiatric illnesses.
Psychiatric disorders that benefit from improved sleep are:
- ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)
- This causes a reduced attention span along with increased impulsive behaviour. It is sometimes spotted and diagnosed in childhood but often is not officially diagnosed until the sufferer is an adult.
- People with ADHD may find falling asleep very difficult and when they do manage to get to sleep, they tend to wake frequently. This causes daytime fatigue and often results in other sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea and restless leg syndrome.
- Anxiety Disorder
- A huge number of people, both young and old, suffer with anxiety disorders. There are a variety of different types of anxiety but all of them have the potential to cause extreme fear and worry that affects everyday life and predisposes sufferers to other health problems such as heart disease and diabetes.
- ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder)
- The term autism covers several neurodevelopmental conditions, mainly affecting areas of communication and social interaction. It also subjects sufferers to various sleep problems including persistent nightmares and insomnia. ASD is mainly diagnosed in children, but the condition usually carries on into adulthood and can include sleep-related breathing disorders.
- Bipolar Disorder
- This causes extreme mood swings. The sufferer will have totally different emotions depending on the type of episode but both manic and depressive spells cause great difficulties in everyday living. They also cause sleep patterns to fluctuate greatly so during manic periods the sufferer may feel less like sleeping, but in periods of depression they may sleep a great deal. These sleep disruptions often don’t disappear between episodes.
- Conclusions of research studies are that most people with bipolar disorder find that their sleep patterns alter just before the start of an episode and that sleep problems can make both manic and depressive phases worse. Findings are that treatment for insomnia can help to lessen the impact of bipolar disorder.
- Statistics show that approximately 75% of those suffering with depression also have the added problem of insomnia. This often causes extreme fatigue during the daytime and sometimes hypersomnia (sleeping too much).
- It was always thought that depression caused the sleep problems but there is new evidence that disturbed sleep makes depression worse. The good news is that because of these findings there is a new type of treatment in reducing the symptoms of depression by correcting sleep disruption.
- PTSD, OCD, Panic Attacks, Social Anxiety, Specific Phobias, and General Anxiety
- PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), panic attacks, social anxiety, specific phobias, and general anxiety all have a link to sleeping problems. When we are worried our mind races, and this contributes to an inability to sleep. Many people then worry because they can’t sleep, and this is called anticipatory anxiety.
- Results of research studies has found a connection between PTSD and sleep in that sufferers often replay negative thoughts in their mind. They also suffer with distressing and graphic dreams and are in a state of constant alert (this being particularly relevant to those having been involved in combat from recent wars) but is also very applicable to those who have suffered trauma of any kind.
- SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)
- SAD is a type of depression connected with lack of daylight. It often affects those who live in countries where winter days are short, and nights are long. It is linked to the disruptive effect of lack of daylight on the biological clock, also known as the circadian rhythm and as it is this that controls certain processes such as sleep, it can result in sufferers having either not enough sleep or far too much.
- This is psychological disorder that manifests itself in an inability to differentiate between imaginary happenings and reality. Sufferers often struggle with insomnia, and this may be made worse by strong medications used to treat the illness.
- Because disrupted sleep and schizophrenic episodes are mutually reinforcing, it has been found that there are benefits to be gained in treating sleep problems to ease some of the symptoms of the illness.
Treatment for Sleep Disorders:
There are various ways of managing the treatment of sleep conditions. A medical doctor or psychiatrist will check out the risks and benefits of different treatment, including prescription medication. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a well-recognised and effective method of resetting negative thought patterns. There are various kinds of CBT depending upon the type of problem so patients with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and PTSD will all receive different forms of therapy. CBT for insomnia has proved very effective in reducing sleep problems and a major clinical trial showed that CBT could reduce symptoms of many mental health issues and could also enhance emotional well-being.
Anxiety and Your Relationship with Alcohol
It’s a great temptation when life is hurting to seek solace in something that can seem to ease the pain and anaesthetise your aching mind for a while. Unfortunately drinking too much will make you feel worse and much more stressed after the initial fuzzy glow has worn off. The BUPA organisation sets out very clear information on exactly how alcohol affects your mental health.
Is Heart Arrhythmia Caused by Stress?
Heart rhythm disorders such as atrial fibrillation can be caused by stress and studies have found that stress and mental health issues may be responsible for the worsening of atrial fibrillation symptoms. For this reason, it is important to learn to manage your stress levels. Health organisations recommend the following strategies to cope with stress levels:
- Relaxation techniques
- Regular physical activity
- A healthy diet
- Support from family and friends
- A positive attitude
If these measures don’t seem to be helping and you have persistent feelings of worry you should talk with your GP who may refer you for some specialist therapy to help with your stress management.
Stress-Induced Stomach Pain
Such feelings as fear, nervousness, grief, anxiety, and excitement can all cause seemingly inexplicable bouts of stomach pain, often accompanied by diarrhoea or constipation. It sounds very homespun but a hot water bottle on your tummy helps the muscles relax and can often help ease the pain. If the problem is caused by stress and tension causing your digestion to go haywire, you may find a spoonful of cider vinegar in warm water will help. Herbal teas and tisanes are very helpful and calming. Try our Digest Tisane made with peppermint, camomile, fennel, and coriander seed.
Relaxing breathing exercise, calming yoga stretches and a gentle walk in the fresh air can work wonders. If these measures don’t help and your pain is accompanied by abdominal cramps and a need to get to the lavatory urgently, Your GP may diagnose IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or one of the various inflammatory bowel conditions, most of which can be triggered by stress.
Can Eyesight be Affected by Stress
Blurred vision, a persistent eyelid twitch (lid myokymia), sudden sensitivity to light, eye floaters, headaches and dry eyes can all be caused by stress. Because stress is our response to any emotional or physical challenge, everyone is susceptible to the effects that it has on our mind and body. Just as stress can lead to anxiety and depression, it can also cause blood pressure to rise, bring on migraines and disrupt vision.
According to the research of John Sarno, MD and former professor of rehabilitation at NYU School of Medicine, tension is the primary cause of chronic pain. He states that many symptoms, including changes within the eye and vision system are physical manifestations of repressed emotions. His theory is: the purpose of symptoms is to keep the patient focussed on the physical body and away from surfacing emotion.
When you are in a stressed state you may notice that your pupils are dilated. This is so that extra light can enter to let you see danger more clearly. At the same time, your body will be producing high levels of adrenaline in case you need to fight or flee. Unfortunately, high levels of adrenaline with no full-on physical activity to use it up, can cause pressure within the eyes and this leads to blurred vision and other macular issues.
It has been found that stress not only causes new vision-related conditions, it also causes the deterioration of existing ones. The EPMA Journal published research in 2018 verifying that ongoing psychological stress and the increased level of cortisol it causes are risk factors in the development and progression of deteriorating vision. It has been found that excesses of cortisol may be one of the main triggers to vision diseases such as glaucoma, optic neuropathy, diabetic retinopathy, and age-related macular degeneration.
In these times of high levels of screen work, it’s a fact that much eye strain is bound to happen due to long periods of time spent working with digital technology. The tiny muscles surrounding your eyes can become strained and this may result in headaches.
Whilst it is a daunting fact that stress can impact badly on ocular health, it is good news that reducing stress can help to reverse the deterioration. Getting plenty of sleep, a healthy diet and moving about in the fresh air are all ways to help. To further slow the onset of visual problems, make a few changes in the way you deal with stress. Try deep breathing exercises, stress management training and mindfulness. Natural supplements can support you in looking after your vision and eye health. Our ClearVision capsules are a blend of bilberry and maritime pine bark, both of which have powerful antioxidant properties and are beneficial to ocular health.
Where vision symptoms persist, it’s important to get a referral by your GP or optometrist to a medical eye specialist so that any underlying eye disease can be diagnosed and treated. Make sure you keep your annual eye check-up appointments so that problems can be detected early.
What is the 3-3-3 Rule for Coping with a Panic Attack?
This is a technique that has proved to be a great help to many people suffering from anxiety and especially at those times when you feel a panic attack coming on.
- Focus on naming three things you see
- Name three sounds you hear
- Move three parts of your body, such as foot, arm, fingers
The process of focussing on doing these three things, along with some slow, steady, deep breathing, will bring you back to the moment and calm the tide of rising panic.
When you are in a state of high anxiety it is very usual to mistake the symptoms of anxiety and panic as an impending life-threatening event. Many people are convinced that they are about to have a heart attack because the symptoms of panic can cause the pulse to rise to 100 beats per minute or more and often become irregular. Stress and tension can cause tight pain in the chest. You may have difficulty breathing, experience nausea, trembling, and a choking feeling. The fear of imminent death then adds to those symptoms of panic and you have a full-scale episode. It’s a terrifying experience but learning that it happens to thousands of people every day, there is no medical cause, and it doesn’t result in death, or a serious medical condition may help to lessen the fear.
It’s a cruel fact that a panic attack does mimic a serious physical problem but when these feelings present themselves just reassure yourself that it’s a false alarm and nothing bad will happen. Do some slow, deep breathing and concentrate on the 3-3-3 rule. The feelings will subside, and you will get past it. After this has happened two or three times you will be reassured that the surge of panic is nothing to be afraid of, has no medical cause, and quite soon the panic attacks may stop happening.
Experts teach that the best way to dispel anxiety and panic is to accept it. If you try to completely side-step it and deny its existence it becomes the elephant in the room but if you acknowledge that there is something causing you to be anxious, maybe a situation that could arise in the future (but may very well never happen) or an event that you are apprehensive about, just tell yourself that your feelings are a perfectly normal and healthy reaction to a thing that makes you feel dread. It will come and go, and despite your fears, in all probability, nothing bad will happen.
Self-Help Tips to Stop Anxiety
There are certain recognised techniques that help give some relief when you are feeling overwhelmed with anxiety.
Ask yourself these four questions:
- On a scale of 1-100, how likely is it that the thing I’m dreading will happen?
- What reasons are there that this will happen?
- Are the reasons I have for imagining the worst based on logical reasoning?
- Could it be possible that I’m worrying unnecessarily?
Share your fears with someone you can trust. Don’t bottle-up your anxiety, talk about it and you will get a more rational view of things.
Break the cycle of nervous energy by going outside into the fresh air and having a short walk or just move to a different room and do something different for a while. Short spells of activity can ease anxious thoughts.
Think of your own mantra; something that will reassure you and give you comfort when you bring it to mind and say it, either to yourself or out loud.
An example of an effective mantra is: ‘These feelings and thoughts are unpleasant but not dangerous.’
If you are lying awake in the night, get up and go into a different room. You can do something to distract yourself such as watching a short TV show that you find comforting or writing down your anxieties. The minute you start to feel sleepy go back to bed. This is a good idea to let your brain know that bed is for sleep, not for lying awake worrying.
Professional Help for Anxiety
Although there is a lot you can do to help yourself with anxiety, there are times when you may need professional help. This takes the form of both psychotherapy and medication. You will need to seek medical help if you are in a state of constant anxiety or if your feelings are preventing you from living a normal daily life, are affecting your work as well as social life, or if you have thoughts of harming yourself. Perhaps you may be experiencing anxiety about events that are not really threatening you or if you are having continuous panic attacks. These are all reasons to talk to your doctor.
Herbal Remedies to Ease Stress and Anxiety
Natural herbal supplements can take the edge off your stress and anxiety and help ease you into a state of calm.
- Ashwagandha Root Extract
- Classified as an adaptogen, ashwagandha root is an ancient herb from India. It is known for its power to help your body manage stress. It can also help to boost brain function, energy levels and lower cortisol levels which helps ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. Our ashwagandha root is of the highest quality available worldwide and is a pure and powerful natural supplement to support you in your quest to ease stress levels.
- Panax Korean Ginseng
- In traditional herbal medicine, ginseng is a well-known and widely used herb in Korea, Japan, China and the USA. It contains antioxidant properties called ginsenosides and these are extracted from the roots of the plant as well as from the leaves, stems and fruit. Ginseng has been proven by scientific research to have the power to regulate immune response and hormonal changes due to stress. It is also effective in suppressing the onset of certain psychological illnesses such as anxiety and depression. Ginseng is well known for its corrective effect in cases of erectile dysfunction, which is often a side effect of stress and anxiety. Our Panax Korean Ginseng is possibly the most studied variety worldwide and is of a higher purity and strength than any other ginseng on the market.
- Valerian Root Extract
- For over 2000 years the herb valerian has been used to support peaceful sleep and promote calm. It is native to Europe and Asia. The flowers from the valerian plant were harvested to make perfume many centuries ago but the root was highly valued for its potential health and wellness benefits.
- Valerian root contains compounds that have been found to promote sleep and reduce anxiety. It has also been found to have the antioxidants hesperidin and linarin which have sleep-enhancing properties.
- Many of the compounds contained within the valerian plant root have been found to inhibit activity in the amygdala, the area of the brain that processes fear and the emotional response to stress. This gives valerian the edge when it comes to a natural supplement to promote calmness by improving stress response and supporting levels of mood-stabilising brain chemicals.
- Our Valerian Root capsules contain 60mg of a 10:1 extract which is equivalent to 600mg, 0.8% valerenic acids. We recommend taking 1 capsule daily before bedtime. You can increase the dose to 2 capsules, if necessary, after one week.
Getting Professional Support with Stress and Anxiety
There are now many areas of help and support for anyone struggling with mental health at all stages. If you are feeling overwhelmed with your stress and anxiety levels or are struggling with depression, it’s a very good idea to tap into some of the help offered by your chosen organisation.
Time To Change don’t themselves offer crisis support but they list on their website lots of organisations who do, and you can choose which ones may be for you.
NHS website has some good advice to help you manage stress.
Mental Health Foundation is a charitable organisation that provides specific information on the best way to begin the process of getting help.
If you would like to discuss any aspects of using natural supplements, or would find advice helpful, please feel free to contact us on 01297 553932.