Stress is our body’s natural response to pressures from a situation or life event. When we say that we are “stressed” we are usually talking about situations where we have a lot to do and think about, or where we don’t have a lot of control over what happens. When we get stressed, our body goes into “fight or flight” mode, producing hormones that help us to respond quickly to situations. Sometimes, this response can help us push through situations that make us nervous e.g. giving a speech in front of a large crowd. We quickly return to a normal state without any negative effects on our health. However, sometimes stress can become too much to deal with, and if our stress response is constantly activated, the effects can lead to negative effects on our bodies and can cause us to feel stuck in a state of “fight or flight”. This is what is known as chronic/long-term stress and can impact both your physical and your mental health.
Signs of Stress
Stress is something that we will all experience differently, depending on the situation. Sometimes it might be easy for you to tell that you are stressed, but sometimes you might not be able to recognise it. Stress can affect you physically, behaviourally, mentally and emotionally. The signs include:
- Panic attacks
- Muscle tension or pain
- Not being able to sleep
- Being tired all the time
- High blood pressure
- Feeling sick or dizzy
- Constipation or diarrhoea
- Smoking or drinking more than usual
- Snapping at people
- Avoiding things or people that you are having problems with
- Biting your nails or picking at your skin
- Being tearful
- Feeling restless, like you can’t stay still
- Eating too much or too little
- Racing thoughts
- Being unable to concentrate
- Feeling unable to make decisions
- Constantly worrying
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling irritable
- Feeling anxious, nervous or scared
- Feeling depressed
- Feeling uninterested in life
- Feeling unable to enjoy things that you used to
Stress can be caused by big life events or situations that we don’t feel like we have much control over. Even when a life changing event is a positive one (e.g. having a baby or getting married), it can still be stressful as you may feel like there are a lot of new demands for you to meet. Also, the pressure from feeling like you should always be happy during these type of events can add to stress. The different life events that stress can be caused by include:
- Personal – becoming a parent, illness/injury, bereavement, worries about money/benefits, poverty or debt
- Friends and family – getting married, going through a break up or a divorce, being a carer, difficult relationships with parents, siblings, friends or children
- Employment and study – difficulties at work, losing your job, being unemployed for long, exams and deadlines, starting a new job
- Housing – poor living conditions, being homeless, moving house, problems with neighbours
How can I help myself?
- Identify your triggers – figure out what triggers stress for you. This will help you anticipate problems and think of solutions for them. Even if you can’t control the situation, being ready can help!
- Organise your time – are you a morning person or an evening person? Identify your best time of day and make a list of the things that you need to do. Do the most important tasks during the time
- Share your worries – share your worries with family or friends whenever possible, there are always people who are willing to help. Whatever the problem is, don’t be unwilling to benefit from their experiences
- Focus on your breathing – breathing is so simple but is always overlooked. Try to slow it down, breathing in through your nose for three seconds and then out through your mouth for five
- Accept the things that you can’t change – the less time you spend worrying about something that you can’t change, the better. This will allow you to put your energy into something else!
- Say NO – if you can’t do it or you simply don’t want to, be assertive and simply say NO!
- Look after your physical health – get some more sleep, choose a healthier diet and do some exercise!
- Don’t be too hard on yourself – being kinder to yourself allows you to control the amount of pressure you feel in different situations. We all have bad days, try to keep things in perspective. Also, give yourself treats/rewards for positive actions, attitudes and thoughts!
- Talking treatments – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) focuses on your thoughts, feelings and behaviours and helps you to understand your experiences, teaching you how to recognise and overcome stressful situations.
- Medication – depending on the severity, you might be offered some medication to deal with symptoms of depression or anxiety, or to treat any physical symptoms (e.g. high blood pressure)