It is Stress Awareness week and despite the increased focus on mental health awareness, stress is a factor which is still often ignored. Stress is a word that is often thrown around in many people’s professional and personal lives, without due attention to what makes one stressed, or what effect stress has on your physical or mental health. London and Birmingham private GP Dr Preethi Daniel, Deputy Medical Director at London Doctors Clinic, outlines exactly how stress can impact your health and what you can do to manage it.
In the UK, work is reported to be the most common cause of stress. 1/5 of adults feel work-related stress several times a week. Long hours and performance-related pressures are often cited as the cause of work-related stress.
Stress can affect both your physical and mental health. According to the 2018 UK Workplace Stress Survey sleep loss (65%) is the most prevalent impact that stress has on UK adults, followed by experiencing anxiety (47%), disrupted concentration (37%), comfort eating (35%) and being less productive at work (32%)
As a GP, I often do a head to toe review of a patient. From this I have found that several ailments, such as headaches, fatigue, sleeplessness, frequent colds and coughs, indigestion, muscle aches/tension, increased or decreased bowel activity such as irritable bowel, weight loss or gain and even urinary frequency can all be caused by stress.
In fact, a survey conducted by London Doctors Clinic (2018) found that 42% of adults feel pressure at work makes them more susceptible to colds and flu with more than half that believe a stressful work environment can make people ill. Now ‘ill’ of course can mean different things to different people but in general physical and emotional wellbeing can certainly be affected by stress.
- Headaches, commonly tension headaches at the front of the head with or without other symptoms, affecting a majority of days in the week can be attributed to stress.
- Fatigue, muscle pains can also be attributed to stress. This often manifests as neck pain or shoulder pain. People often attribute this to their posture at work which may also be causative, but stress can also cause this.
- A common cold can be triggered by stress. The immune system’s defences can be lowered when the body has a high stress level making one susceptible to common viruses.
- Indigestion is another very common symptom and affects between 12%-40% of the adult population in the UK. This can manifest as heartburn, bloating or abdominal discomfort. Commonly, stress makes one produce more acid in the stomach contributing to indigestion.
- Irritable bowel syndrome is often thought to be affected by stress. This can also manifest in various ways such as decreased appetite, constipation or diarrhoea, abdominal pain and bloating.
- Insomnia is often one of the first signs of significant stress. Sleeplessness with ruminating thoughts can even progress to anxiety where it can have a significant effect on day to day functioning. Performance at work and school can be affected. This often means people take time off, which further isolates them and can even cause low mood and depression.
Fortunately, there are several ways to manage stress. Stress can be mild and transient or moderate or even severe and prolonged:
Talk it out
I personally think off-loading by way of talking is a great way to manage stress. Talk to your colleagues, friends or family. After all a problem shared is a problem halved. If this is not always possible, speak to your GP. They will help you find the right option which may even involve some counselling or cognitive-behavioural therapy if it is causing anxiety or low mood.
Try and switch off the minute you leave work. From my point of view, whilst being a doctor is mentally and emotionally exhausting, I feel not dwelling on patients or decisions I have made that day definitely helps. Not always possible but definitely worth a try.
Consider vitamin D
We make vitamin D in our skin in the summer months and universally, in the UK we are more likely to be deficient in it. There is a lot of evidence to say vitamin D helps aches and pains, our immune system and, importantly, our mood!
Sleep is so important
I need a minimum of 7 hours of decent sleep. Not drinking alcohol and not eating too late and avoiding blue light into the night helps me get some good Zees! Again, you may find your stress levels, or anxiety about work or life may stop you from getting good quality sleep and if this is so, please do speak to your doctor.
Regular exercise is key to good physical and mental wellbeing. Stretching, cardiovascular exercise and strength exercises are key to keeping that stressed out body in tip top shape. Furthermore, exercise is proven to release endorphins, those happy hormones which help keep your mood on an even keep and keep stress at bay! Ask any expert and they cannot stress (pun intended) how important regular exercise is for good health.
Dr Preethi Daniel, London and Birmingham GP and Deputy Medical Director at the walk-in gp clinic, London Doctors Clinic part of the Doctors Clinic Group