Where are you on a scale from zero to tense? Four out of five adults feel stressed during a normal week and one in ten feels stressed all the time, according to a recent study.
Meanwhile, more than half a million people suffer from work-related stress, anxiety or depression, the Health and Safety Executive reported last year.
And stress is just as bad for our physical health as our mental health – a 2017 review led by Iranian researchers concluded that & # 39; many disorders stem from stress & # 39 ;, pointing to further links with heart attacks, arrhythmias and high blood pressure , as well as inflammatory bowel disease.
Do you feel it? More than half a million people suffer from work-related stress, anxiety or depression, the Health and Safety Executive reported last year
Even relatively small tensions, such as a flat tire or a disagreement with a colleague, have been associated with an increased risk of chronic illness and reduced mobility later in life, according to a study by the University of California last year. Stress is also known to play a role in weight gain, causing the body to shed fat, especially around the abdominal organs.
Whether we are all really that stressed is a matter of discussion, but whatever the answer is, there is a new crop of DIY & # 39; stress tests & # 39; emerged in response to this & # 39; epidemic & # 39 ;.
These range from blood and saliva tests that measure cortisol levels – the & # 39; stress hormone & # 39; that gives us an extra burst of energy and alertness in response to stressors, making the heart beat faster, raising blood pressure and suppressing non-essential functions, such as digestion or reproduction – on DNA tests that tell you if you & # 39; are susceptible to stress and anxiety & # 39 ;.
Prices range from around £ 39 for a fingerprick kit to test morning cortisol levels (forthwithlife.co.uk) to £ 165 for a full DNA analysis.
But do you really need a test to tell you if you are stressed?
According to Professor Angela Clow, a psychophysiologist at the University of Westminster, perhaps.
& # 39; Sometimes there can be a discrepancy between how people perceive their stress levels and how they respond to them, & # 39; she says. & # 39; Our physiological response to stress is unknowable to us, just as you cannot know your blood pressure without having to take a measurement. & # 39;
Did you know? Even relatively small tensions, such as a flat tire or a disagreement with a colleague, have been associated with an increased risk of chronic illness and reduced mobility later in life, according to a study by the University of California last year
To find out how stressed I am, I take a saliva test that measures my cortisol levels (£ 79, thriva.co) and another that claims to tell me about my genetic response to stress (Health Fit, £ 165, dnafit.com) . I hope that I will succeed & # 39; succeed & # 39; After a difficult period of trying – and failing – to have a baby, I recently swapped my busy office job (and up to three hours of commuting per day) for a softer pace of living from home: I get more sleep, do practice yoga regularly and take walks during lunch.
The Thriva test involves taking four saliva samples during the day – within an hour after getting up, then at 12 p.m., 4 p.m. and just before bedtime – by chewing on small pieces of sponge (and yes, it is as terrible as it sounds).
These are sent back to the lab, the results are interpreted by a doctor and a report is e-mailed to you with a graph showing your cortisol levels during the day.
If results fall outside the normal range, you are advised how to improve them, such as eating more regularly – what Thriva says can help keep blood sugar levels stable, which in turn stops the cortisol spikes – or meditate.
I do the test at home on a fairly boring day. I take a walk during lunch and & # 39; in the evening my husband and I relax in front of the TV.
& # 39; Basically, cortisol is not bad for you & # 39 ;, says Professor Clow. & # 39; It is an essential hormone with multiple functions, including the stress response, but the most important is to control the 24-hour biological clock. The level of cortisol tells cells what time it is. "So fluctuations fluctuate during the day, even without any stress.
We get a huge burst of cortisol in the morning to get us started, about 30 minutes after waking up, and then draining slowly until the levels reach their lowest point just before bed.
According to Thriva, cortisol should vary between 6 and 21 nmol / L in the morning, while the last thing should be between 0.1 and 2 nmol / L at night. Everything above that would be considered too high – but on the contrary, low cortisol levels may also indicate chronic stress.
& # 39; If you experience something stressful, the normal response is that cortisol will rise to prepare you for the challenge and then go back. But if you are stressed, your levels remain high. That's the first phase – people can currently have trouble sleeping and feel "tired but wired", "explains Dr. Vishal Shah, a general practitioner and medical director of Thriva. & # 39; But as stress over time is ruthless from time to time, you can actually start producing less cortisol. & # 39;
Approach burnout? Four out of five adults feel stressed during a normal week and one in ten feels stressed all the time, according to a recent study
That is not a good thing. It shows that the system that releases cortisol, the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis, is not functioning as it should.
& # 39; With chronic stress you get & # 39; lower levels of cortisol in the morning and higher levels & # 39; at night so that you get a flat cycle & # 39 ;, Professor Clow explains. & # 39; This means that vital biological processes in our body do not receive good information about day and night and cannot function properly.
& # 39; Over time, any system of yours will be your vulnerability, or your cardiovascular health or immune system will be exposed. & # 39;
And what about the gene test? This examines, among other things, which versions you have of genes that influence factors that are involved in our stress response. You wipe a monster from inside your cheek and then place it for analysis. DNAfit then produces a report for you.
My report suggests that I have a & # 39; low tolerance & # 39; for stress, based on the versions that I have from 12 different genes. These include the COMT gene, which directs an enzyme of the same name that balances chemical messengers in the brain, such as dopamine and adrenaline, breaking down if the level exceeds a certain point. I produce a little less of this enzyme.
And this suggests that I am a & # 39; strategist & # 39; then be a & # 39; warrior & # 39; – a worry, in other words, according to Craig Pickering, head of sports science at DNAfit. & # 39; Warrior types work best under pressure & # 39 ;, he explains. & # 39; While someone with your genetic make-up can work better at a more stable pace, with more preparation. & # 39;
This is unfortunate news for a journalist. Tight deadlines come with the territory. But do I have to worry about my worries? Dr. Giles Yeo, a geneticist from the Metabolic Diseases Department of the Medical Research Council at the University of Cambridge, is not convinced. Although there are known gene variations that mean that a person will have a certain trait – such as blue eyes or lactose intolerance – the relationship between other gene variants and certain traits is less clear.
& # 39; Many features – including our stress response – are & # 39; polygenic & # 39 ;, which means it is not related to a gene, but to a mix, & # 39; Dr Yeo adds. & # 39; In short, it is impossible for a test like this to say with certainty. & # 39;
What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that is caused by very stressful, frightening or disturbing events.
People with PTSD often suffer from nightmares and flashbacks to the traumatic event and can experience insomnia and cannot concentrate.
Symptoms are often serious enough to have a serious impact on the person's daily life and can arise immediately after the traumatic event or years later.
PTSD is thought to affect about one in three people with a traumatic experience and was first documented in World War I with shell-shock soldiers.
People who are afraid that they have PTSD should visit their doctor, who can recommend a psychotherapy or antidepressant course, the NHS said.
Combat Stress has a 24-hour help line for veterans, which can be reached on 0800 138 1619.
Regarding the cortisol test, my results came back as mostly normal – albeit with a peak at 4 pm to 9.79 nmol / L. Thriva suggests that it should be below 5.5.
& # 39; This is not dangerous, but may reflect your stress & # 39 ;, says the doctor's report.
However, Professor Clow is not too concerned. & # 39; It could have been anything – you could have had a meeting or missed the bus, in which case a small burst of cortisol would be perfectly normal.
& # 39; In an ideal world, I would suggest that you have to look at it in a few days – research has shown that six days is best. But that could ask too much of most people. & # 39;
For £ 79 at a time, it wouldn't be a cheap experiment.
As to whether the tests are a good approach: & # 39; I have two thoughts & # 39 ;, says Professor Clow. & # 39; Part of me believes that people should be able to check their cortisol level and use that information to maintain their health.
& # 39; But I'm worried about the feedback people get and whether they will scare them unnecessarily. & # 39;
Cortisol monitoring can be useful in controlling type 2 diabetes, she says. & # 39; Type 2 diabetes is insensitive to insulin, which means that you cannot properly absorb glucose – the sugar in your blood. But because cortisol facilitates the release of glucose into the bloodstream, it can make it worse. It is a double blow. & # 39;
Thriva & # 39; s Dr. Shah believes that home testing makes people more inclined to take action about their health.
& # 39; In my experience you can talk to patients about the importance of dealing with stress, but to get that message fully on board, it helps to provide physical evidence & # 39 ;, he says.
I can see his point. Looking at the results in black and white reminded me: lately I slept a little worse, and the hours spent at my desk slowly rose again.
And although I can't see any editor for the & # 39; I need a longer deadline, it's in the genes of my genes, I'm reconsidering an as-yet-untouched & # 39; mindfulness and relaxation – coloring book I received for Christmas. Maybe my family tried to tell me something long before the tests did. . .
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