From the pandemic to the cost-of-living crisis, recent years of constant change and instability has left many of us feeling anxious and stressed. It’s recognised that stress is a major contributor to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. A survey by The Mental Health Foundation found that:

  • 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some over the last year that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope
  • With 81% of women said this compared to 67% of men

Stress affects us physically as well as mentally, and it has been linked to health problems such as heart disease, immune system problems, insomnia, and digestive problems.

What is stress?

Stress can be described as a state of worry or tension brought on by any situation or event that requires your attention or action. Stress is a natural human response that helps us deal with life’s difficulties and challenges.

Stress usually happens when you are in a situation that you feel you can’t manage or control. When we experience stress in short bursts it can help motivate you to meet your goals.  But when you experience prolonged or overwhelming bouts of stress it can affect your mental and physical health.

What causes stress?

There are many events and situations in life that can generate stress, and some of the main causes of stress for most people include:

  • Work
  • Finances
  • Personal life
  • Parenting
  • Health issues
  • Bereavement
  • Caring duties
  • Day-to-day stress

In the modern world, psychological and emotional stress can now trigger our ‘flight or fight’ reaction, keeping us on high alert and stressed out for an extended period of time. Your physical and emotional health may suffer as a result.

Typical signs of stress

Stress can cause a variety of symptoms, affecting how you feel physically, mentally, and how you behave.  People react differently to stress, but some typical symptoms include:

Physical symptoms

  • frequent sickness
  • headaches or dizziness
  • muscle tension or pain (especially in neck and shoulders)
  • decreased sex drive
  • grinding teeth
  • chest pain or a faster heartbeat
  • stomach problems
  • difficulty sleeping
  • low energy

Mental symptoms

  • difficulty concentrating
  • struggling to make decisions
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • constantly worrying
  • being forgetful

Changes in behaviour

  • feeling irritable and snappy
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • eating too much or too little
  • drinking or smoking more

If you experience stress for a long time and it’s not properly addressed it can lead to conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and depression.

What can you do to help reduce your stress?

Just remember that you are not alone; most people experience stress at some point.  To better manage your stress, first decide your priorities in your work and daily life, then set small goals that you can easily achieve. Rather than focusing on problems you can’t change focus your time and energy on your wellbeing. 

Some suggested ways to improve your wellbeing include:

  • Prioritise your sleep. If you’re well rested, you will be able to deal with stressful situations more easily.
  • Exercise. Keeping a regular exercise routine (even if you only have time for a 15-minute walk in your lunch break) helps with our mental health and boosts our natural happy hormones (endorphins) in our bodies.
  • Eat for your mind.  Eat a well-balanced diet and reduce your intake of processed foods, fats, salts, and sugars.
  • Mental stimulation. Reading, learning a new skill or language, or engaging in a hobby can all help lift our spirits by focusing our energy on a positive outlet for our emotions.
  • Avoid alcohol. Reduce alcohol consumption as this has a depressant effect on the brain.
  • Socialising with family and friends. They can offer you support and make sure you don’t feel isolated.  
  • Practise relaxation and mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply being aware. Knowing what is going on mentally, emotionally, and physically in each moment and then choosing how to respond rather than being at the mercy of knee-jerk reactions. You pause, even if only for a few moments, and choose to enter your body, breathe, and let everything settle. This activates the relaxing parasympathetic nervous system, slowing your heart rate and relieving muscle tension. Yoga, calming breathing exercises and meditation are all great starting points.

Getting help for stress

You may feel reluctant to ask for help if you’re feeling stressed but it’s OK to ask for professional help if you’re continuing to feel stressed and it’s not easing.   You can begin to feel better by reaching out and seeking help. First, contact your GP, who will be able to advise you on ‘next steps’.

You can also visit these websites which have loads of great tips and advice on managing and dealing with stress:

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