Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Body Signs That Reveal the Strain; Health&Fitness / STRESS SPECIAL

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Body Signs That Reveal the Strain; Health&Fitness / STRESS SPECIAL

Article excerpt


The best way to conquer stress is to heed your body's early warning system. We show you how to recognise the different symptoms THEY are the classic signs of stress - tense shoulders, throbbing head and a sudden increase in irritability.

But medical evidence is mounting to suggest that the real effects of a stressful life are far more extensive.

From the brain to our feet, the cumulative burden of living with stress day in and day out can be measured in virtually every part of our body. These effects can vary from skin blemishes to potentially fatal damage to the heart.

Last year, for example, Swedish researchers discovered stressed women were twice as likely to develop breast cancer.

"Many people with stress are very aware of how it is affecting their body," says Ashok Gupta, director of the Harley Street Stress Management Clinic.

"But others just keep going because they may not realise what their body is telling them. I deal with people all the time who have stress but have also developed physical illnesses as a result."

Prolonged pressure in life is damaging because our bodies were designed only to cope with short bursts of stress. The so-called "fight or flight" syndrome - where the heart pounds, blood is diverted to the muscles and breathing becomes more shallow - is meant to help us either flee or do battle with potential enemies.

"Our stress response is designed to deal with physical threats," says Gupta.

"But in the modern world the stresses are mental rather than physical.

There's nothing wrong with this unless it becomes continuous - in which case it can become toxic to the body."

So how does daily pressure affect different parts of the body and what can you do to combat the effects?

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When the brain senses danger, it releases extra supplies of the hormone cortisol. Its job is to block inflammation at the site of any potential wounds. It was a handy DIY repair kit in man's hunter-gatherer days but is not so vital in the office environment.

Excess cortisol is known to increase blood pressure.

Stress tip: The brain is where the effects of stress always begin. Practise relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and meditation.


Under extreme stress, hair can die off faster than it grows. The body's struggle to cope with added pressure can cause more hair to go into the loss-phase. Highly stressed people sometimes find clumps of hair on their pillow in the morning. But it usually grows back in time.

Stress tip: Try Indian head massage - it improves blood flow to hair follicles.


Neck pain is one of the classic indicators of stress. If you are battling against excessive workload, domestic problems and financial worries, it's a natural reaction for your muscles to tense up. …

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