What is stress?
At some point in our lives, we have all felt stressed. This could arise from a certain event or situation or when we are placed under pressure. Stress is a feeling that we get when we find it difficult to cope with the demands that are placed on us.
It is often difficult to pinpoint whether stress is the cause of an issue or the result of an issue. Stress can be a drive for motivation and help you to take action. However, if stress becomes overwhelming, this can have then opposite effect.
Stress can be triggered by things happening in your life. For example, facing big changes, not having control over certain situations or having responsibilities that you are finding overwhelming. Stress may result from a combination of factors or may be one big thing.
Signs of Stress
Irritable or aggressive
Depression or Anxiety
Unable to switch off thoughts
Uninterested in activities
Sense of dread
What situations can cause stress?
Illness or injury
Pregnancy or parenting
Getting married or getting divorced
Being a carer for a friend or relative
Education and Employment
Losing a job or redundancy
Deadlines and expectations
Staring a new job
Worrying about money or benefits
Poor living conditions
Rent/ landlord issues
Problems with neighbours
Is stress linked to mental health?
Stress is closely linked to mental health. Struggling to manage or cope with feelings of stress can contribute to the development of mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. On the other hand, mental health issues can be the cause of stress as you struggle to manage symptoms and treatment. As stress and mental health are closely interlinked, this can create a vicious cycle.
Can stress affect me physically?
Your body can give you clues that you are stressed through physical symptoms. For example, tiredness, headaches and stomach issues. When we feel stressed, our bodies release hormones called cortisol and adrenaline which can cause us to feel physically unwell. Stress may also cause panic attacks and cause sleep problems.
What affects our feelings of stress?
The stress we feel depends on our perception of the situation. Past experiences or own self-esteem may impact if we interpret things positively or negatively. Additionally, our emotional resilience and skills to deal with stressful situations may also impact how stressed we feel. Something that might feel stressful for you, may feel like a walk in the park for someone else. For example, someone who is shy may be worried about public speaking, whereas someone else may find that experience enjoyable or fun.
How can I manage stress?
Despite the fact that some of the stressful events in your life might be out of your control, there are many useful and practical things you can do to reduce the amount of stress that you feel every day.
Firstly, identify the causes and triggers of stress. By understanding what causes your feelings of stress, you can anticipate problems and think of ways to solve them. Being prepared for an event can help you manage your reaction to it. Take some time to reflect on what could be contributing to your stress and if it is issues that come up regularly or one-off events.
Secondly, organise your time to help you feel more in control of your day. One way to do this is by making a list and organising it in to order of importance. Make sure that you set the tasks that need more energy or concentration to the time of the day that you feel your best. It is also important to take regular breaks and not to push yourself to do too much at once by breaking things down into small achievable tasks. This might help you to feel more productive.
Thirdly, accept the things that you cannot change. It is difficult but once you accept the things that are happening in your life, you can focus your time and energy on other things.
How can I be more resilient?
By taking the time to look after your wellbeing, you may be able to build emotional resilience which is the ability to adapt and bounce back follow difficult life events.
There are some general changes that you can make to your lifestyle that may help you to deal with pressure and stressful situations. Make sure you set time aside each day to do the things that you enjoy. This also helps you to develop your interests. Hobbies are a great way to distract yourself from the pressure of everyday – it may also require you to meet new people and make friends. Did you know that smiling and laughing releases happy hormones? You should also make time to see friends to prevent you from feeling isolated and give you the opportunity to open up about any stresses. Finally, find balance in your life and try not to focus all of your time and energy on one thing. This can help to spread the weight of pressures in your life and make everything feel lighter.
Taking the steps to look after your physical health can lessen the effects of stress on your mental health. Being physically active can reduce stress levels whilst preventing some damaging effects of stress on the body, which links to eating a healthy and balanced diet. Do not beat yourself up for having treats – just make sure it is balanced with healthier options. What you eat has a huge impact on how we feel! Additionally, getting a good night sleep is vital to improve our ability to deal with difficult situations, as stress can cause our mind to spiral and make it difficult for us to sleep. Lastly, spend time outside! Being in nature can help relieve stress and anxiety, improve your mood, and boost feelings of happiness and wellbeing.
Be Kind To Yourself
Give yourself a break every once in a while, and reward yourself for all of your achievements. From the small things, such as making your bed in the morning, to the larger things, such as finishing a work project. Make sure you are regularly telling yourself ‘well done’. Additionally, it is important to forgive yourself if you make a mistake. Once you realise that nobody is perfect, there is no need to put extra pressure on yourself. Some things may also be out of our control so don’t be upset if you didn’t achieve something that you hoped for.
What treatments are there?
If you are finding it difficult cope with things going on in your life, there are treatment options available that could help. The first step in accessing most treatments is usually to talk to your doctor.
Talking treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), with a trained professional can help you to become more aware of your thoughts and feelings. This can help you to discover the triggers of your stress and how to deal manage it. It aims to support you to identify some positive actions that you can take when you feel stressed or overwhelmed.
Mindfulness strategies, such as meditation and yoga, could support you in reducing stress by calming your mind. Focussing on the present moment and paying attention to the world around you, can improve your mental wellbeing. There is evidence to suggest that mindfulness lessens reactive, fearful responses that enhance stress. Make sure you also practice your breathing techniques to calm your body when you feel anxious.
Your GP may recommend some medications to help you to reduce or manage some of the signs of stress. For example, your doctor might offer to prescribe sleeping pills, antidepressants if you’re experiencing depression or anxiety, or medication to treat any physical symptoms of stress. It is important that before you decide to take any medication, make sure you have all the facts you need to feel confident about your decision.
Where can I get support?
- Friends and family; Confiding in a trusted person may lift some of the stresses. Afterall, a problem shared is a problem halved!
- Support at work through your line manager, human resources, union representatives, or employee assistance schemes; Your wellbeing is important and not a sign of weakness and therefore, employers should take it seriously.
- Support at university, college or school; such as your tutors, student union or student services.
- Specialist websites, organisations and charities; These may also offer peer support so you can speak to someone in a similar situation.
- Your GP; If you feel like you need some professional support, you can speak to your GP. They can check your overall health, and help you to access treatment.
Be Mindful – www.bemindful.co.uk
Information about mindfulness and guidance on how to learn mindfulness.
Big White Wall – www.bigwhitewall.com
An anonymous online community of people who are finding it hard to cope allowing you to talk to others in similar situations and express yourself openly.
Health and Safety Executive – www.hse.gov.uk/stress
Specialist information on stress for employers and employees. Information and guidance on health and safety in the workplace.
Mind Tools – www.mindtools.com
Information and advice on stress management and assertiveness.
Stress Management Society – www.stress.org.uk
Tips on how to cope and manage stress.
Stressbusting – www.stressbusting.co.uk
Information about stress and techniques for coping, in particular, the benefits of talking treatments and therapy.