‘Chronic’ stress affects millions of Brits and could cause a silent killer – but it is solvable

By Staff 8 Min Read

TV doctor Dr Xand van Tulleken has warned Brits to tackle a ‘chronic’ issue which is on the rise across the country – and has shared his top tips for reducing it

Dr Xand van Tulleken has sounded the alarm on a ‘chronic’ health crisis affecting two-thirds of Brits, revealing that stress-related illnesses claim nearly 180,000 lives in the UK annually.

The health expert highlighted the alarming increase in stress levels among Britons, with figures showing a surge of over one-third since 2018. The NHS outlines that stress can manifest in various ways, impacting one’s physical state, mental well-being, and behaviour. Recognising stress as the underlying cause of these changes is often challenging. Interestingly, Dr Xand pointed out that certain low levels or types of stress could be beneficial, enhancing motivation and alertness. However, he emphasised the dangers of chronic stress and the necessity for it to be tackled head-on.

“When we have a stress response, we release cortisol and adrenalin,” Dr Xand explained during his appearance on BBC’s Morning Live. “It puts our blood sugars up, puts the levels of fat in our bloods up, it makes you more alert and less sleepy, it puts your blood pressure up, increases your breathing rate, dilates our pupils so that you see more clearly, your heart is sending more oxygen and nutrients around your body and all of that means we can function and do things, from running to sitting an exam.

“That is good stress and is not to be avoided. That is fine. If you did not feel any stress or anxiety at all, you would not get out of bed. But when you feel that chronic stress where maybe you don’t like your boss, you are in a job you don’t like, you have overwhelming financial worries, or difficulties at home, when that it there 24 hours a day, the release of adrenalin and cortisol goes on permanently.

“At that point, with all those changes which get you through a stressful moment or important bit of work, suddenly the high blood sugars starts to look like diabetes, the alertness looks like insomnia and disrupted sleep, the cortisol disrupts your appetite and fat distribution on your body, the high blood pressure damage your coronary arteries and sets you up for a heart attack or stroke.

“You also end up with brain changes with that chronic feeling of anxiety that leads you into depression and anxiety conditions Suddenly you have bled from a helpful, useful response we have adapted over millions of years to chronic difficulties which cause very real physical and mental health problems.”

The NHS says symptoms of stress include being:

  • irritable, angry or tearful
  • feel worried, anxious, hopeless or scared
  • struggle to make decisions, have racing thoughts or feel overwhelmed

The physical symptoms of stress include:

  • stomach problems, stress headaches and other odd pains including muscle pain
  • skin reactions, like stress rashes and hives
  • feeling dizzy, sick or faint

However, help is at hand, reports Gloucestershire Live. Dr Xand recommended three key things which can help with reducing stress – exercise, talking things through and sleep.

“Exercise is that good kind of stress,” he elaborated. “What exercise seems to do is release adrenalin and release cortisol and you have an appropriate response to it. You can sort of think of it as having a bit less energy left for anxiety and worry and that chronic stress adaptation.

“It also seems to make your body react less strongly to those hormones, which is good. If you have worked out during the day, when our boss is yelling at you or you get that bill that you are worried about, it is actually easier to cope, you have less of a strong reaction. Spending time outdoors is the other big one. Going for a walk with your friends, ideally in a green space. Just a bit of sunshine and clear sky, you get light and fresh air.

“Talking through things you are worried about makes a big difference. Kimberley Wilson is a psychologist who says everything you want in life is on the other side of a difficult conversation. Sometimes it is hard to have those conversations and bring things up but it can make a big, big difference. Sometimes it is good to identify the source of stress if there is a particular thing and address it and tackle it but sometimes you need to look at a broader context and thing about how can I deal with things more generally in my response to the external environment.

“The other thing is sleep. It is so easy to say everyone needs to focus on sleep, it is usually at the bottom of everyone’s list. Trying to get more into a pattern of maybe waking up at the same time every day, sorting out your sleep environment, if you haven’t had enough sleep, everything spirals out of control.”

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