When we are about to face an exam or a job interview, our “antennas” are ready to offer an immediate response, increasing the breath, the heartbeat, the responsiveness of the organism. This is the classic acute stress reaction. And it helps us overcome obstacles. But when the phenomenon continues over time and becomes chronic, it threatens well-being.
You become irritable, sleep becomes a chimera, digestion slows down, headaches appear. How to defend yourself? Here are the advice of Piero Barbanti, professor of Neurology at the San Raffaele University in Rome.
Covid-19 and health concerns
According to a research by Assosalute, the “National Association of self-medication drugs” in collaboration with Human Highway, Covid-19 has profoundly changed in the last year the perception of stress. For one in three people and at all ages, Health became the first cause of emotional anxiety, in particular for women who even go so far as to declare it as the first source of stress in 40% of cases. Fear of Covid-19 creates anxiety: there are fears of getting sick or that the virus affects loved ones.
Not lacking, among the concerns, too the one for work, which afflicts one in four Italians, especially among men (28%), with particular reference to fears for future prospects. Finally, 15% of the interviewees see the main cause of stress in the limitation to social relationships, a problem felt above all by the youngest and the over 65.
But be careful: there is a “good” and a “bad” stress, as mentioned. “There are two types of stress: a good or physiological one, which allows us to carry out actions that make us overcome problems, and a bad one, which occurs when the reaction that determines the stress is not strictly linked to the triggering factor, but is activated for a nothing and remains active by lowering the threshold for triggering stress, with oxidative and inflammatory damage to the organism over time ”- explains Barbanti.
“The alarm bells are represented by those symptoms that do not have a consistent organic basis and are persistent: difficulty concentrating, feeling of tension, unrefreshing sleep and headache, but also muscle tension, shortness of breath and laboredness, variation (or perception of variation) of the heartbeat, altered salivary quantities, heartburn and disorders related to the sexual sphere. “
Beware of loneliness
Symptoms such as nervousness, irritability, irritability are more common than in the pre-Covid period. sleep disorders (most common between 25 and 44 years), muscle tension and pain (especially in over 55s).
“The pandemic stopped us and confronted us with one condition: loneliness, which forced us to face problems that in the pre-lockdown period could hide in the daily frenzy – continues Barbanti. They emerged anxious new: subjects who found themselves facing a new scenario that triggered stressful situations. At the start of the pandemic, there was so-called ’emotional synchronization’ – a common danger that led people to unite. Soon, however, we were faced with an unprecedented infodemic which generated intrusive thoughts, blocking the brain’s ability to move beyond the current problem ”.
The analysis shows that asking the doctor for advice and taking self-medication for small transient annoyances are the two most common behaviors in the case of minor stress-related disorders, respectively adopted by 42.7% and 41.7% of the interviewees.
But it is also necessary to “react” and protect oneself with adequate lifestyles. According to the research, sleep and proper nutrition the most common ones to take care of themselves, adopted respectively by 39% and 34% of the sample. Follow sport and physical activity (23.8%), more typical of men than women, and taking the time to devote themselves to their favorite activities, being alone, with their loved ones, or in contact with nature.
“Practicing a motor activity is important, since in that case the brain activity is subordinate to the physical one – concludes Barbanti. Another very helpful activity is reading a good book. Reading forces our brain to dream and slow down, to produce images that are different from those we see on screens all day. About food alcohol and coffee are to be limited, as well as foods containing saturated fats which increase inflammation levels. In this sense, following a good Mediterranean diet is the best antidote ”.