Are you stressed? Or are you just too busy to know whether you’re stressed? This modern-day malady can show its self with a range of health problems:
• Bloated stomach
• Poor skin/ spots
• Low energy
• Loss of libido
• Frequent illnesses, such as colds
Stress can be a problem for everyone, but according to Consultant Gynaecologist Miss Tania Adib for women who are going through the menopause stress is a specific problem. ‘The average age of the menopause in the UK is 50 years,’ she says. ‘This is just when women are at their prime of life, leading busy lives, holding down stressful jobs or juggling family life.’
Stress now accounts for 40 per cent of all work-related illness. The mental health charity, Mind, says stress has forced one in five workers to call in sick - and 93 per cent say they’ve lied to their boss about the real reason for not turning up.
Stress takes its toll on your health - from coughs and colds to heart disease and cancer, to rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes. Even multiple sclerosis, infertility, mental illness and premature ageing have been linked to stress.
One study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that too much stress can be as bad for you as smoking and high cholesterol. Stress also gives some rather strange symptoms.
Tingly sensation caused by stress
You also might find yourself feeling a strange tingly sensation. This definitely needs to be checked out by a doctor – as does any unexplained symptom- but paresthesias is the medical name for that tingling or pins and needles-y sensation. Although there are many causes of paresthesias it can affect the body (particularly legs, arms or lips) during times of stress and anxiety.
Rapid breathing through your upper chest instead of your diaphragm, which is known as hyperventilating, may be to blame. Breathing this way makes the level of carbon dioxide to drop in the bloodstream which raises the pH levels in the nerve cells producing tingling in the skin.
Start training yourself back to normal breathing suggests Miss Adib. ‘Simply focusing on your breathing for five minutes can have a positive effect on how you feel. Just slow down and be present in yourself. You could also try yoga – this is a great practice to encourage healthy breathing.’
Stress causes tummy bloating
Feeling stressed? Your body will produce more of the hormone cortisol which releases glucose from the body’s energy stores to fight or run away.
Even after you’ve stopped feeling so stressed, cortisol stays in the bloodstream stimulating the appetite. The only trouble is, you’ve not run away from a dinosaur and need nourishment (as our stone-age ancestors would have done), we’ve just chased a deadline. The result? We reach for the doughnuts. The result? Weight gain in the form of a ‘stress belly’.
Adrenaline, another hormone involved in stress, slows the digestive system down, leading to sluggish digestion and constipation – and with it, bloating.
Exercise is a great counter to this belly bloating. ‘Put aside at least 30 minutes three times a week to exercise, suggests Miss Adib. ‘It’s a great stress-buster - as well as helping keep your body strong, physical activity releases ‘feel good’ hormones, giving you a much-needed mood boost!’
Nutritionist and author Stephanie Moore, adds, ‘Bloating can be associated with many lifestyle factors, not just diet. It tends to respond really well to a more holistic approach where stress, sleep and nutrition can all be addressed together.’
If you suffer persistent bloating, after you have checked with your GP that there is not an underlying health issue causing the problem, you should consider seeing a nutritionist. ‘By taking a thorough dietary and medical history, a nutritional therapist can begin to see patterns regarding specific triggers,’ explains Miss Moore.
Spots, skin and stress
Doctors still aren’t exactly sure that stress causes spots, but there’s certainly anecdotal evidence that it does – and at least one piece of research shows a link between acne and stress. One Harvard University study published in the Archives of Dermatology found that college students reported more acne flare-ups during stressful exam time. And stress eating itself (all those sugary foods) may cause skin inflammation.
It may be that when blood sugar and insulin levels rise from a poor diet or from stress, inflammation increases causing cortisol and other hormones to cause flare-ups.
You can find out exactly what is causing your breakouts by seeing a qualified dermatologist.
How to handle stress
According to Miss Tania Adib, when she sees women in her consultation rooms stress is often mentioned. ‘Most women will tell you that menopausal symptoms feel far worse when they’re feeling stressed,’ she explains. ‘Depression can also become worse at the perimenopause because of reducing levels of oestrogen. Of course, exercising and a good diet will make stress less acutely felt, but relaxation techniques can also reduce symptoms of the menopause.’
Mindfulness is one of the strategies Miss Adib teaches women. ‘Mindfulness, yoga, breathing all help give a sense of objectivity so physical symptoms, like hot flushes, aren’t so keenly felt – and of course stress is reduced.’
The time of a woman’s life when her ovaries stop releasing an egg (ovum) on a monthly cycle, and her periods ceaseFull medical glossary