RECOGNISING STRESS AND HOW TO MANAGE IT
Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure. Stress is a common experience in everyday life. We feel stress in response to situations that we find difficult or challenging. People have different ways of reacting to stress, so a situation that feels stressful to one person may be motivating to someone else.
Whilst a bit of stress can help to motivate us to reach our goals; too much stress can be bad for our bodies and minds. Feeling over-burdened at work, reacting to a major life event, and coping with a difficult situation we were not expecting are some examples of things people report as causing a high level of stress. Stressful life events do not necessarily have to be negative events. For example, events such as starting a new job, moving house and getting married can all be stressful. Overall these positive and negative pressures of life turn into stress when you feel unable to cope.
Telltale signs of stress building up include:
- Not being able to sleep properly with worries going through your mind.
- Minor problems causing you to feel impatient or irritable.
- Not being able to concentrate due to many things going through your mind.
- Being unable to make decisions.
- Drinking or smoking more.
- Not enjoying food so much.
- Being unable to relax and always feeling that something needs to be done.
- Headaches and muscle tension in the neck and shoulders
- Feeling tense. Sometimes ‘fight or flight’ hormones are released causing physical symptoms. These include:
- Feeling sick (nauseated).
- A ‘knot’ in the stomach
- Feeling sweaty with a dry mouth.
- A ‘thumping’ heart (palpitations).
Signs and symptoms of stress overload
- Memory problems
- Inability to concentrate
- Poor judgment
- Seeing only the negative
- Anxious or racing thoughts
- Constant worrying
- Depression or general unhappiness
- Anxiety and agitation
- Moodiness, irritability, or anger
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Loneliness and isolation
- Other mental or emotional health problems
- Aches and pains
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Nausea, dizziness
- Chest pain, rapid heart rate
- Loss of sex drive
- Frequent colds or flu
- Eating more or less
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Withdrawing from others
- Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
- Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
- Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)
Effects of chronic stress
If you tend to get stressed out frequently, like many of us in today’s demanding world, your body may exist in a heightened state of stress most of the time. And that can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can suppress your immune system, upset your digestive and reproductive systems, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and speed up the aging process. It can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.
Health problems caused or exacerbated by stress include:
- Depression and anxiety
- Pain of any kind
- Sleep problems
- Autoimmune diseases
- Digestive problems
- Skin conditions, such as eczema
- Heart disease
- Weight problems
- Reproductive issues
- Thinking and memory problems
Improving your ability to handle stress.
- Realise when it is causing a problem and identify the causes: An important step in tackling stress is to realise when it is a problem for you and make a connection between the physical and emotional signs you are experiencing and the pressures you are faced with.
- Review your lifestyle: Are you taking on too much? Can you do some things in a more leisurely way?
- Eat Healthily: There is also a growing amount of evidence showing how food can affect our mood.
- Be aware of your smoking and drinking: If possible, try to cut right down on smoking and drinking. They may seem to reduce tension, but in fact they can make problems worse. Alcohol and caffeine can increase feelings of anxiety.
- Exercise: well proven to reduce stress.
- Take Time Out: To relax and do some self care.
- Get some restful sleep: Relieves tiredness and helps you think clearly to deal with stress.
- Build supportive relationships: friends or family can offer help and practical advice can support you in managing stress. Joining a club, enrolling on a course, or volunteering can all be good ways of expanding your social networks and encourage you to do something different.
Some people find they have times in their lives when stress becomes severe or difficult to cope with. See a doctor if stress becomes worse. Further treatments eg pyschological therapies or medication may be appropriate.
Take away bite:
If you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress, seeking professional help can support you in managing effectively. Do not be afraid to seek professional help if you feel that you are no longer able to manage things on your own. Many people feel reluctant to seek help as they feel that it is an admission of failure. This is not the case and it is important to get help as soon as possible so you can begin to feel better. Remember stress is a risk factor for and can precipitate physical and mental health problems so seek help when you feel stressed and are unable to cope and/or function.
Acknowledgements: NHS inform, Mental Health Foundation, Patient UK, Help Guide. American Psychiatry Association